The Richest Beggar


The panhandler caught me off guard. Suddenly it wasn’t a joke. Now I was the beggar.

“Got a dollar?” the scruffy young man asked. I had several dollars, but I silently dropped a quarter into his hand and got on the bus. I rested my head against the window and wondered how much money he made in one day. Probably more than I do as an assistant manager at a restaurant, I thought. And he doesn’t have to work for it.

My family had moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, just three months before, but I’d already seen my share of people come into the restaurant to beg for the food we threw away. Sometimes they ordered food and paid for it in change. More often they would just dig through the garbage bins out back.

At first it made me sad, but now it just irritated me. It seemed as if I couldn’t go anywhere without being asked for money or food.

It was dark by the time the bus got to my stop, but I could still identify the familiar form approaching me. They all seemed to look the same—same whiskers, same shuffling walk and oversized shoes. And they always said the same thing. This time I decided to beat him to it.

“Got a dollar?” I asked, searching his face for a reaction. I had hoped he’d be embarrassed, but his expression didn’t change. He reached unsteadily into his pocket, put a dollar into my hand, and stumbled away.

I froze, then panicked. It wasn’t a joke anymore. I caught up with him and pressed the dollar back into his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it,” I said. He hesitated for just a moment and looked me deep in the eyes. Then, his hands shaking, he took the bill.

“God bless you,” I whispered as he walked away.

“Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance …

“But … whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent. …

“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have?” (Mosiah 4:17–20).

I suddenly realized that I had judged that man, and many others, unfairly. I hadn’t known his situation, his needs, or what was in his heart; and yet I had mocked him. And then it dawned on me. I was dependent on Heavenly Father for everything I had, and he expected me to share what I could.

I wouldn’t let him down again.

[photos] Photography by Peggy Jellinghausen