Last Friday, I stopped at a convenience store to pick something up on the way home from work. All along the side of the building were homeless people, their worldly possessions in bags strung about their feet, their pets looking as gloomy as they did. What made this incident stand out in my mind was the presence of a small baby. She was in a beat up stroller, and the mother was doing her best to comfort her cries. It was a horrible sight.
Living and working in the area of Tulsa that I do, homeless people are in abundance. For some of them, it is fairly easy to determine how they came about to be in this position. Mental illness and drug addiction are by far the culprits for most of them. A smaller number of them, though, have the look of shock that accompanies a down turn in fortune that was not expected. Divorce, abandonment, and unemployment has struck them, and their eyes tell a story of the devastation of a soul soaked in poverty and burning dimly with hopelessness. .
The staffing agency I work for is located on the bad side of town. It probably comes as no surprise that this kind of business normally attracts to it workers from the neighborhoods around it. Several of the major staffing agencies we compete with recently moved their offices to better neighborhoods. This is an understandable decision, from a business point of view. However, one of the things that makes me so grateful to work where I do is the owner’s refusal to do the same. We’d probably make more money if we moved, but a huge chunk of our workers would be unable to follow us, as we put a big percentage of Tulsa’s homeless to work through our work-today, get-paid-today department. Each morning, I walk through a large mass of people boarding buses and vans, ready to put in a hard days’ work to buy themselves food and shelter. Yes, I’m sure many of them will probably buy drugs or alcohol as well. I simply don’t care. Until you’ve experienced the fear of having no place to go home to, you cannot fault others for the methods they use to cope.
This morning I read an article on a site that really pissed me off. It was written by a Christian pastor explaining his opinion that people who are poor are reaping the seeds of irresponsibility and poor decisions, and the Church is not expected to physically care for them; only to preach the Good News so their souls would not be impoverished. I’m not putting a link to it because I refuse to help that writer get any attention whatsoever. What a self-serving, bullshit lie!!! (I will send him a link to mine privately so he can respond if he wants to. What a schmuck!)
It may come as a big surprise to a lot of present day Christians, but Jesus was homeless. He had no house to call his own. He depended on the believers in each city for food, shelter, and company as he traveled. Was Jesus reaping the harvest His seeds of irresponsibility and bad decisions had netted for himself? Uh. No. He told us, what you do to the least of these, you do to me.
News Flash: The Example we are to emulate was a homeless guy.
I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the impoverished souls of this world. Nothing fills me with more joy in the Lord than to see the hopeless, ashamed look in a person’s eyes replaced by a little dignity and optimism. I truly couldn’t possibly care less how a person’s decisions and actions had brought them to this low point in their lives. Drugs? Don’t care. Booze? Don’t care. Crime? Don’t care.
If each one of us were to get what we truly deserve in this life, without God’s merciful grace to temper it, we all would be homeless and hungry. Nothing….nothing!! you or I do in secret is missed by God, and I doubt we’d have even one person left on earth if God allowed us all to reap only the harvests we sow in our own lives every day. We were told that we will reap the same amount of mercy from this life that we’ve shown to others. Why are so many of us harsh with Christian churches these days? Could it be because they are showing so very little mercy to anyone else?
I watch several of this city’s mega-churches build youth centers and hold fund-raisers to send missionaries to places abroad, and I instantly dislike them. I know the poor will always be with us. Jesus never instructed us to fix this problem, only to feed the poor, and take care of the orphans and widows. Somehow, churches today have decided that throwing good money at people who might never be able to get their act together enough to get a house with utilities on and a car in the driveway, or God forbid, tithe, is just a waste of money. By having this attitude, they have missed a very valuable lesson we learn from our poor people. We learn how to administer grace, like the grace we ourselves receive from the Lord.
Grace. Giving something away to those who have not earned it, and expecting nothing in return. We want a return on our kindness, and that defeats the purpose of our mission to help the poor. A good percentage of these people will remain homeless until they die. That is just the sad fact about people who can’t cope with what life has offered them, and it was never our place to judge them, or to change them. We are only to serve them and to share with them the true Author of our good works. That is all.
I believe we are only going to be able to address the poverty of these souls, if we first try to ease some of the physical distress these people are in. Handing a cute cartoon booklet to a guy who is wearing the only clothes he owns is stupid and worthless, and frankly insulting to everyone involved.
Maybe it makes the church feel all warm and fuzzy thinking they’ve done their part to draw in the harvest, but the fall-out to Christianity’s reputation from that particular exercise feels bitter to me.
What does that man or woman think about a God whose followers handed them a pamphlet and not a little food? I just want to scream, “Hey, Members of the Elite Clubs of God. If you aren’t going to help the Christians who are working on the front lines of this war for souls, at least don’t make things worse!”
I work with an exceptionally empathetic set of people who daily treat those people society deems less valuable than the rest of us with dignity, respect, and just the right amount of tough love. Make no mistake, you simply must have a heart for the poor to work in the part of this city that we do. It is dangerous, and we are constantly reminded of that.
A lot of my co-workers are Christians like myself, but a number of them are not as far as I can tell. And yet, I often see these “unsaved” people acting more Christ-like than a lot of the church members I know. We all, saved and unsaved alike, work hard to find some way to help those less fortunate than us. Time after time, I see mercy poured out on people who my finite amount of mercy and compassion would have long been finished with. Yet, their wells of compassion, mercy and kindness seem to go so much deeper than mine.
I am both shamed and reminded of just how much mercy my own life requires from God daily, and even more beautiful, how He often uses those people to instruct me who the church refuses to accept among their ranks, like the homosexuals and the drug addicts.
I would emphasize for everyone today, we are going to be judged by the amount of mercy we’ve shown others.
What you do to the least of these is what you are doing to Jesus, as well. We all will reap what we have sown, and all the stupid sermons in the world about how we can act in whatever manner we see fit with only the loss of some vague reward system in the sky as our only consequence is just plain stupid. The child that the Lord loves, He disciplines. I get my proverbial butt spanked all the time. Do you?
Remember that next time you pointedly refuse to look at the shaky, dirty man holding up his cardboard sign at an intersection. I hope you feel ashamed when you find yourself justifying your lack of giving by deciding he looks healthy enough to get a job, or his obvious addiction has landed him where he is, and as such, he isn’t your problem. Obviously, he’s reaping what he sowed.
He is your problem. He is my problem. His poverty, and what he did right or wrong that lead up to that moment, is not our problem.
We are told to give until it hurts weekly by our church management when they collect tithes. Where is that same consistency and urgence when it comes to helping our fellow man? Do you give to others enough to have some impact on your own life? If you don’t, you should.
People were made in the image of God, and this includes those who have slipped so far down the social ladder, they’ve become homeless. Their worth is no greater, nor is it less than, anyone else’s in the Lord’s eyes. How we treat those less fortunate will be seen by the Lord.
His love and mercy is poured out on those very souls who deserve it the least but will value it the most. We’d better do the same, or we have no right to call Him our father.