Several folks wrote, and said that they would have done more or less the same thing I did with the poor woman. They might have given her a few bob, but probably wouldn't give her a ride. Still, I can't help but admit that I've been thinking about it for two days, and I still feel uneasy with the limits of my compassion. That poor woman is mentally unstable (not her fault) and unable to live a "normal" life. Probably has experienced unspeakable abuse or other horror. And it was about to be the coldest day since 2005. I dropped her off at MacDonalds.
I had $12 in my wallet. Why did I only give her $5? Why didn't I push the issue about the shelter? (I assumed that she probably knew about it, though, because she changed the subject immediately both times I mentioned it.) And... I know someone extremely well who happens to be living in a van this winter. Why did I not call that person and invite them to sleep on the couch on that cold night?
-They could be dangerous.
-They might have germs.
-They might steal stuff.
-They might never leave.
-They might pee on the couch.
Laugh. It's a terrific coping mechanism.
To be truly compassionate, we know it's right to offer a helping hand, and we do so, ideally when that helping hand is at the end of a very long arm. For this brief second, you may take my hand. But don't touch my stuff.
I venture to guess that we all agree on this.
So why have we (okay, they) built a massive religion around an Ancient Hippie in Sandals who would actually shake hands with a leper? Most people, even in his time, wouldn't shake hands, either. But make one false move in Jesus's presence, and you'd get a metaphor-filled lecture that would eventually get written up by one of his disciples/journalism buddies in chapter and verse. People would study your story in temples, tents, and cathedrals for eons, then 2,000 years later, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandkids will use crayons to color your picture in Sunday School. Underneath, in Comic Sans, is written the phrase, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
Talk about being made an example of. Don't screw up around the Prince of Peace, man. He'll never let you forget it.