"Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Matthew 8:20
A headline over the weekend caught my attention. It was a story about how off-duty LAPD officers were helping a cat rescue organization to save dozens of stray cats on Skid Row. The irony of this heart-warming story is that living among these cats are hundreds of homeless people. And while these volunteers are trying to find caring and loving homes for the kittens they save, I wonder if they have the same care and concern in their hearts for the people living there on the street. Interestingly, the news left out the part about the church who had been taking care of the cats as a secondary concern while ministering to the homeless. That church can't afford its rent and will have to move, leaving the cats. Sure there are other churches, other ministries, and other volunteer organizations in and around Skid Row to take up the slack meeting the needs of the people there, but it seemed like a glaring omission in the media coverage.
That news got my wheels turning and reminded me how just a weekend before I bought a new mattress for our master bed. It was past time to replace our second-hand mattress that my wife and I have been sleeping on ever since we were married, so we took advantage of a deal at Costco. As I was loading the mattress to the top of my SUV many commented on how I was going to have a great night's sleep that night. Feeling pretty good about myself, I pulled out of the parking lot and got stuck at a red light. There, at the intersection, was a homeless man asking for change. I felt embarrassed giving him a relative pittance while we talked about the quality of sleep and the comfort of my new bed. He wasn't critical at all, in fact he could have been any one of the other shoppers at Costco wishing me well, but the circumstances from where he was relating hit me to my very core. Here I was, taking home a new mattress, talking about quality of sleep to a guy who that night would be sleeping under a bush.
And the wheels in my head kept turning, reminding me of a date I had with my wife down in downtown LA a few months ago. After a delicious dinner, the group we were with walked down to a trendy pastry bakery/restaurant. The place was packed and the line for dessert went out the door. The restaurant side of the house was bustling with Gen-X-ers dressed to be seen. But just outside the door were two men, a father and a son, who were wearing the same clothes they've been wearing for weeks, if not months. They weren't pushy or overbearing to ask for change. In fact they just sat right outside the door quietly, carrying on a conversation with whomever would listen. After our expensive dinner and debaucherous dessert, it was literally the least we could do to buy these guys some coffee. While our friends waited, we handed the cups over and engaged in a brief conversation. After retuning to our group, one of our friends told us, "oh, you guys are so sweet." Sad, my heart responded that sweet had nothing to do with it as I had to fight back the criticism that my wife and I appeared to be the only two who cared.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my best friends who leads a church in Bakersfield, inspired by "freegans", shared how they have partnered with a local Trader Joes to provide food to one of the local food banks. Trader Joes has a bad reputation for throwing out food that is perfectly good, but not "pretty enough" to put on their shelves or that hit the sell-by date. So he and his wife started "dumpster diving" and then approached Trader Joes to start working together to provide that perfectly good food to the homeless. Twice a week they fill several shopping carts with food and either take it to the bank or distribute it first-hand in the community.
Another irony hit me as my church started to get more involved with our local shelter. As we surveyed their needs, they told us they more than enough volunteers to help with their soup kitchen but they still had a huge need there. They said they had no volunteers to help on Wednesdays and Sundays. Why? Because most, if not all, of their volunteers were from churches. Something about religion that God accepts comes to mind...
Do you know what else is ironic? Jesus was homeless. The Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father, walked this earth with nothing. Consider the scripture above as you read the account of the Samaritan woman in John 4. From her point of view, Jesus was no different than a homeless beggar asking for change at an intersection. Think of that the next time you're stuck at a red light.
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Luke 12:48
This post is part of a blog carnival hosted by my good friend, Peter Pollock. Visit his site for more entries on the topic of "much".