This morning I got a call from a guy who calls me fairly often. We’ll call him Joe Smith. Except sometimes he tells me his name is Smitty Jones.
Over the past few years I have written quite a few checks of amounts varying from $50 to $100 to Joe Smith. Those checks come from our Deacon’s Fund, which is really the pastor’s discretionary fund. When I first came here, it had a huge balance of several thousand dollars, mostly because of one dear little lady who put $50 in the Communion offering every single month. She died last fall at age 101, and her $50 bills had already gone by the wayside when she became too frail to attend church. It was also a big fund because no one had written a check on it since the last settled pastor retired almost three years before I arrived.
I remember meeting Smitty Jones at the Post Office downtown about two years ago to give him a check to help with his rent. I had smartened up and was asking for the landlord’s name to put on the check. The name he gave me was Joe Smith. Smitty talked about his son and trying to keep a home together for him, and I bought it hook, line and sinker.
Every few months, there would be another call from Smitty. Sometimes I helped, other times I told him I couldn’t.
Today he called again. We’ve talked enough times that his voice is recognizable to me. Today he needs help getting his car out of the impound lot. Vandals, he says, took the plates off and threw them in the bushes. Then the Parking Division towed his car because it didn’t have plates. I called the Towing Company and the Police Department (and didn’t work on my sermon…), and got about as straight a story as I am likely to get. The Towing Company agreed to take $150 instead of the $165 they are owed.
Oh, and today, he told me his name was Joe Smith. I went back and counted up the number of checks I have written to Joe Smith (rent assistance for Smitty Jones). And I felt, oh, sad, frustrated, irritated, suspicious.
When I called Smitty/Joe back, I told him I would help him get his car out of the lot. And then I asked him about the names. Hey, he said, there are lots of Joe Smith’s in this state. Well, no doubt. He talks a good game.
I don’t believe him, but I will help him this time, for the last time. As I put it to Joe/Smitty, “You should consider this well to be dry for a long time to come.”
This is one of the hardest things about pastoring for me. I want to help, but I don’t want to be ripped off. I want to be sensible, but not insensitive. I want to be faithful, but not foolish. God help me.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16