I am writing this post during Holy Week, when Christians worldwide pray and fast and join together in humble worship as they prepare for the annual observation of the Passion, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Today is Maundy Thursday, commemorated as the day when Jesus, after having his last supper with his disciples, washed their feet as a symbol of servanthood and enjoined them to follow his example, saying, “A new commandment (mandatum novum) I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34 RSV).
The City Council of Fayetteville, North Carolina, has chosen Holy Week to play a cruel joke on those who travel its public streets–too far in advance of April 1 to be counted as an April Fool’s prank. According to The Fayetteville Observer, on March 26, the council passed by a vote of 9-1 an ordinance prohibiting the occupants of vehicles from exchanging items with pedestrians. Namely, in passing the so-called “panhandling ordinance,” these elected public servants voted to punish drivers who give money or food to to the marginalized members of our society who stand by the roadside with cardboard signs and ask for handouts. They voted, in short, to punish with fines up to $100 those who obey the commandment Jesus issued to his disciples and us before going to his arrest and trial and death.
I work in Fayetteville. I have given money to a man who stands almost daily at the end of the exit ramp from I-95. I have given spare change to the men at the Speedway gas station who either wash my windshield or simply ask for the money. Despite the stern warning signs next to the menu, I have given Big Macs to the men who walk along the drive-through line in search of a meal. My husband has given money to a homeless man with a dog and a sign at the Oriental buffet where we ate one evening.
I am not boasting. I have not given nearly enough. And now I learn on Maundy Thursday that I will be breaking the law when I do.
The issue is not red versus blue; according to Cumberland County voter registration statistics, Democrats outnumber Republicans almost two to one. Nor is it white versus black; the races are almost equally represented on the voting rolls. Fayetteville prides itself on its close relationship with the Fort Bragg Army installation that abuts it, so the ordinance defies even the citizens’ vaunted support for homeless vets.
In reality, the issue comes down to one of image. An unsigned “Our View” column in the November 2, 2017, Observer avows,”The begging that seems to be a daily fixture along our major corridors isn’t exactly doing wonders for the city’s image.” And I have read more of the same.
A quick Google search of “churches in Fayetteville” yielded a staggering number of 248. Even if they don’t join the liturgical churches in foot washing ceremonies on Maundy Thursday, they all read Bibles replete with verses about feeding the hungry:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Just don’t do it at the intersection of Bragg Boulevard and Skibo Road.