Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Homeless Jesus

"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".


Lisa notes... said...

Oh, the sad ironies all through this post. You touch my heart. My I work it out through my hands and feet to those who have so much less than I do.

caryjo said...

Been there, done that. Have given to homeless. Have been very involved in providing for refugees, both in the US and in Uganda. It is where the Lord has my heart so often. And, a couple of times, instead of giving money, I've given a needful item... gloves, winter hats, food. My heart truly goes that direction. The cat thing? I really care about them... but people first. Our present-day culture is often going the other direction. Sadly, in one way or another, I see it often. Prison for hurting an animal [not OK to hurt it, of course], but probation for DUI-ing and seriously injuring someone. Makes no sense at all.

Very good thinking and sharing.

A Joyful Noise said...

Thank you for sharing some Good news today. a cup of cold water or a cup of coffee given in the name of the Lord will not go un-noticed. I like what your friend is doing with Trader Joes too.

Fatha Frank said...

Thank you all for your comments!

@Lisa, amen! We are His hands and feet!

@Caryjo, there's a lesson by David Platt where he talks about how in our country our pets eat better than most of the world. I'm an animal lover too, they are also part of God's creation, but we are called to serve the "least of these".

@Hazel, I learned not to judge someone asking for change (though sometimes it's hard not to!) and assume they'll waste it away. They'll be held accountable to God for what they do with what they've been given. Just as I will be accountable to Him for the "much" that I've been given. Cold water, hot coffee, it's small but it's something.

caryjo said...

Your comment re: pets eating better than the people sometimes... when our Ugandan "son" came to the States, we had to take him shopping for clothes... he'd come with next to nothing. Walking into Walmart was horrifying. To see aisles and aisles of pet food, "clothes", and specials, was so embarrassing. In Africa, kids and animals and everyone else could be w/o enough food. And to show this to Sam, when he had been w/o food quite often until he became our son over there, made me quite angry. Not that I hadn't noticed it before and felt that way because of what I knew [having been poor myself for many years, hardly able to feed my kids], but it still makes me want to scream when I see all that manner of putting the dogs, cats, etc., first. Frustration is an automatic reaction.