Doing Right Is No Guarantee of ROI

It is an internet sensation gone horribly wrong. A seemingly kind police officer decides to help a homeless man who has no shoes. The officer proceeds to offer the man a $114 pair of boots that should keep his feet warm and dry.

Enter the media/internet frenzy.

The officer, Lawrence DePrimo, has landed on the Today Show for his efforts. The homeless man, Jeffrey Hillman, has suddenly become the subject of hard-target investigations by everyone from The New York Post to the NYC Commissioner on Homeless Services.

As it turns out, Hillman isn’t exactly “homeless” in the traditional sense:

In fact, he has organizations that are willing to offer help to him. He even has a family that seems willing to help him out.

Let the games begin. We can hear from all of the various “conspiracy theorists” on this situation.

We can now hear from the ones who believe that the whole thing was a set-up by the NYPD to get some good press.

We can hear from the ones who believe that the NYPD and the media have exploited this man and taken advantage of him for their own purposes. This coincides with the ones who believe that the media set this up just to get a story or prove that the man wasn’t really homeless.

We can now hear from those who think giving to the poor or homeless is a wasted act. This just shows that they’re all a bunch of freeloaders and con artists, right?

We can hear from those who blame the liberal media for hyping up the story, and those who blame the conservative media for digging up dirt on Jeffrey Hillman.

All of this is just “white noise” to keep us from asking the first essential question:  Did Officer  DiPrimo do the right thing? In a simple word: Yes.

As he said in response to the media glut, DiPrimo took an oath to serve. What he did was clearly an act of service. I don’t know if the NYPD put him up to it for publicity, nor do I care. This officer saw a need and tried to respond to that need. What more could we ask of him?

During the month of December, our church did a little something different with the traditional Advent wreath. We lit a Candle of Obedience and celebrated the fact that we are called to obedience, and sometimes required to do what we’re supposed to do without asking for a Return on Investment.

Helping those in need often comes with a negative ROI. Rarely do we “cure” hunger or homelessness or illiteracy or poverty or unemployment, even for one person. Some people may be ungrateful or entitled. Some may remain ignorant or uninformed of how they might do better in life.

And some, perhaps like Jeffrey Hillman, have mental/emotional/social problems that are untreated or maybe even incurable.

What should we do when the situation seems to hold so little promise?

We help them anyway. Because that’s what Jesus told us to do.

Our acts of obedience should be just as effortless as that of Joseph. He’s a man who never spoke a word in the New Testament. He just did what he felt that God was leading him to do.

There is no question that scripture and the Holy Spirit command us to go out of our way to sacrifice on behalf of the poor, the sick, and those who are in need. It doesn’t say anything about considering the ROI for what we invest in others. This is why Officer DePrimo did right in trying to help Mr. Hillman. He was doing his duty, fulfilling his oath.

Sometimes, we just do because that’s what we’re supposed to do, because that’s what Jesus would do. If we can’t follow the commands that Christ gives, then we need to reconsider our commitment to Christ.

And if our biggest concern when helping the poor is ROI, then we might need to ask ourselves if we know Christ at all. For if Christ had asked for a specific ROI when going to the Cross for me, He might have had second thoughts.


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