Today is Epiphany. Let’s celebrate by giving cash to the homeless.
I know we cite plenty of reasons not to.
What if the money is misused? Shouldn’t we give to root causes? What if our helping actually hurts? (Kate Parsons addresses these questions in her short essay, summarizing a study on global cash transfer titled Just Give Money to the Poor)
Epiphany is a celebration of God showing up to unexpected people in unexpected ways. Celebrating this grace by giving to the homeless seems like a perfect response.
Tyler Huckabee, senior editor at Relevant Magazine, wrote a substack explaining why he gives cash to the homeless:
- “Most homeless people endure a regimen of indignities and trials that would constitute, for many of us, far and away the worst day of our lives.”
- Giving cash is an act of trust: that people who are homeless know what they need.
- If that need is replaced by a beer on a hard day, we might consider why we don’t turn our same critical lens to the spending of the ultra rich, whose actions far more directly impact our lives and the lives of the homeless — and whose tax loopholes and bailouts do not require the drug tests many homeless shelters impose.
- Tenting and panhandling is being criminalized in many places, while legal mandates to increase housing stock will never match the number of people who need affordable homes.
- When we give, we honor the literal words of Jesus, and 99+ Bible verses.
I’ll add my own reason: when we give to the homeless, we are invited to see the poor, and seeing the overlooked has been where I have most fully experienced Epiphany, the manifestation of God.
Celebrating Epiphany honors Jesus’ revelation to the people we least expect, sometimes the people who make us feel the most uncomfortable.
The text for Epiphany is the visit of the Magi in Matthew 2. King Herod—despite his impressive achievements as King of Judea—has become a paranoid tyrant (Josephus’ words, not mine) and now seeks to kill Jesus to preserve his political power.
The religious leaders of the day unwittingly play their role in this plot to kill Jesus. King Herod orders Jesus’ assassination, but he does so only after seeking the guidance of “all the chief priests and teachers of the law,” who reaffirm what he had already feared: Jesus is born from the true line of the expected Messiah-King. Strangely, the religious leaders declare to Herod that Jesus is the true king, but not one visits Jesus.
They’re not looking to upset the status quo. The religious leaders of the day “had aligned themselves politically with Herod. If his power base were threatened, so was theirs” (NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Matt. 2).
Bound up in their own pursuits — and with a freshly rebuilt Jerusalem temple thanks to King Herod — they missed the miracle of Epiphany.
The miracle is that what began as an assassination attempt resulted in the first conversions recorded in the gospel of Matthew: foreign diviners “overwhelmed with joy” when they see Jesus, becoming Jesus’ first worshippers.
These foreign diviners from the East — Jesus’ first visitors, per Matthew — were likely not highly regarded, nor were they the first visitors recorded in other versions of the Christmas story. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ first visitors were shepherds, about whom Aristotle wrote, “the laziest are [the] shepherds, who lead an idle life, and get their subsistence without trouble from tame animals.”
These were Jesus’ first worshippers: foreigners and shepherds. The irony of Epiphany represents the great tension in our Christian faith today: the Christmas news of Jesus’ birth is most readily welcomed by outsiders, and we don’t have many outsiders in our churches. That means it’s easy for us church-going types to miss today’s epiphanies.
So consider joining me in my renewed Epiphany resolution this year: giving cash to the homeless. The act isn’t just about meeting the real needs of the homeless, but about opening our eyes. Unhardening our hearts. Refusing to believe the worst about people. Believing the most insignificant act can be swept up into something much bigger.
This might be the most important thing I will do today: slowing down on the US-23 South off-ramp, greeting Bobby by name, giving her ten dollars, shaking her hand, and asking about her day.
There’s so much more to do. But we can start with Epiphany.