Saturday, February 20, 2016

John The Baptist In The Wal-Mart Parking Lot

Not sure what it is about me, but I tend to get approached by homeless people in the parking lots of Wal-Marts. Most often those who approach me are men, some bear a striking resemblance to John the Baptist with their wild hair and crazy eyes. Very few of them will actually look directly at me when they ask for money, more often, they look downward.

I never just give them money, but will inquire as to why they need the money.  If they say it's because they are hungry and want to buy something to eat, I will then offer to go with them to the nearby MacDonald's or whatever fast food place is nearby to buy them a meal. As Deuteronomy tells us that if there is someone in need, ". . . do not be selfish and refuse to help him. Instead be generous and lend him as much as he needs" (15:7-8). 

Some decline and walk away, but there have been those who agreed. After they order and get their meal, we sit down at a table. I notice the stares we get from customers around us. They give hard looks at the homeless guy. They probably notice his smell. What they don't do is see him. What they see is a problem. What they see is a homeless person, not a person. Or they merely see an alcoholic or drug addict.

How many of us pretend not to see them at all sometimes?

How many of us start to fidget with the radio or just look elsewhere when we're stopped at a light where there is a homeless guy standing there with a sign, begging for money?

I have.

Plenty of times.

But what happens when we begin to engage with them?

I will sit there with them as they eat and just listen to them share their stories. Some were vets. Some had a series of misfortunes that landed them on the street. I have met the educated and uneducated. I met one who talked to me about science and the universe. His hero was Albert Einstein. I met one who had a degree in art history. But no matter what their story is, they are people. They are created in the image of God. They are all loved by God, so much so that Jesus said you would always find him among them. Jesus said, "Whatever you've done for the least of these . . ."

There's a Scottish proverb I love that goes, "Do not judge by appearances; a rich heart may be under a poor coat."  This can be true. I've met them.

It's hard not to judge them or to blame them. But Christ hasn't called me to do either of those. He has called me to love the poor. He even tells us to throw a party for them in Luke 14:13. I must admit, I am wary of inviting the poor into my home. I am much easier taking them out to get them food or buying them a warmer coat or socks.

Proverbs 19:17 tells us, "He that has pity on the poor lends unto the Lord; and that which he has given will he pay him again." Pity here is not looking down on someone and thinking, "Poor guy." No, pity is the feeling of compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. Compassion is love in action. It is being moved to the point of doing, not just thinking or feeling sorry for someone. When Jesus was moved to compassion, he healed and he fed.

I remember when one showed up on our doorstep asking if he could do some work for us so that he could buy a meal to eat. I told him, "We don't really have anything we need done, but I will be glad to fix you something if you'll wait."  He thanked me. I went inside and fixed him a sandwich, got one of those small bags of chips, and a bottle of water. When I gave it to the man, he was very appreciative. He had not eaten in a couple of days. At the time, I think this gesture made the biggest impact on Benjamin who witnessed it all. And I have taught him that, while I never just give somebody money, I will ask the need and see if I can help with that need.  I explained that by doing so it honored God. Getting my Bible, I also showed him how Proverbs 22:9 says, "A generous man will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor."

Our kids need to see us be like Christ who was "close to the brokenhearted" and "crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). We cannot just complain about the poor or dismiss them as drug addicts or alcoholics who simply want money for their addictions.

Shane Claiborne said, "How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?"

As I have said many times, I love the prophets. They were men who sought after God and understood deeply that to do so meant taking care of the poor. Listen to what Isaiah taught, "And if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like noonday." (58:10)

Are we not called to be light in this world?

When those who come to us with open hands, we should respond with open hearts because that is the heart of God. We need to be a Church for the poor. Pope Francis has said, "For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favorable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God's work and practicing the works of mercy."

As Jesus stated in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Let our lights shine as we feed, comfort, and love the broken, the dispossessed, the poor, and the outcast. Those who are on the fringe of our society are on the closest to the kingdom.

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