I wondered to myself, "Is this where the ultimate happiness springs from — being able to walk into one of these stores, purchase something expensive, then walk out and do it again two or three times in other stores?"
You see, on Rodeo Drive, you can buy a $43,000 blue-gray fox-fur bedspread, a $32,000 suede poncho to toss on over your jeans, or you can stop at John Peter's for a $125.00 haircut. Shopping where the richest of the rich shop may be someone's idea of living well (or of fun), but for my grandson and I, it was "Boring!" ... and "Could we leave to go buy a Big Mac for lunch, cause it's well past our lunch time?"
As we drove out of the rich area to go find our Big Mac, our eyes quickly spied the people pushing grocery carts loaded down with everything they owned. They were also going towards McDonald's. Why? To ask the customers for money so that they could eat a hamburger.
You see, if they had asked for money on Rodeo Drive, the police quickly would have arrived to arrest them on charges of "panhandling." Rodeo Drive merchants won't put up with beggars, street people or the homeless because they want an atmosphere of happy, carefree shopping to surround their patrons. Joy-filled shoppers buy more, shop longer and generally have a more "contented" shopping experience.
Think of what the site of these poor people could create in the minds of the Rodeo Drive crowd — pangs of guilt over excess shopping, uneasiness when someone with a crazed look asks for a couple of dollars while blocking the crosswalk, and the sense that "these people" wreck a good shopping climate for important tourist dollars from around the world. The last of these sentiments was illustrated by one French shopper who bemoaned, "There should be more laws to protect us from the beggars."
What would Jesus have thought of Rodeo Drive shopping bonanzas? Would he be tender toward those trapped in their excessive spending lifestyles? Would he challenge the down and out to get up, go out and find a job, tossing aside their grocery baskets?
I don't know the answer to these questions. But there is one question I can't escape: what would he have me do?
I claim to be a Jesus-follower. I know he has called me to enter the lives of people who need to experience his compassion — whether those people are rich and if they are poor. I've read Jesus' story and I'm convinced that the Cross is firmly bound to compassion for all people. You remember one thing Jesus said on that Cross, "Father, forgive these people, because they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:33 NLT)
What do people need?
Jesus met people at their point of need whether they were rich or poor. It's easy to despise the rich, thinking, "I'm not rich." It's often easy to feel sorry for the poor and yet give them none of my time or attention. How does that square with what Jesus would have me do?
We can't stereotype the rich and the poor into convenient little categories. We encounter people one at a time. Our categories often are confusing and somewhat complicated. What I've found far more consistent and easy to understand is the way Jesus treated people.
And that is the assignment he has given you and me. "Randy, you say you love me. That's good. Now, go do my work in the world. Love and serve people in my name. I'll be with you, right by your side. Remember, love them according to their need, not according to what they deserve. Be compassionate, just as your Heavenly Father is compassionate."
I understand the charge I've received. And I really want to live that way. But it's hard to push out beyond my selfish desires to work compassionately in another's life.
Whether it's on Rodeo Drive or in the McDonald's in downtown Hollywood, people need to see Jesus and experience his touch of mercy. Jesus' words stand, "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least, you did it for me." (Matthew 25:31-46) That's my call in life ... and yours. We are called to minister with Jesus, whether in the life of the one pushing a shopping cart or the one buying a blue-gray fox-fur bedspread on Rodeo Drive.