Sometimes Jesus is referred to as a homeless man. After all, in Luke 9:58 Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
For many of the homeless people I have met, they do in fact have homes they could go to. This is not true for all of them, but for many. In fact, I have been in communities where this is the case for so many of their homeless, that they have ceased referring to them as “homeless people” but instead “street people”. Jesus could likely have gone back to his parents’ home for place to lay his head—he could have stayed in heaven for that matter. But while many street people have homes and choose to abandon them because of issues of injustice or even addiction, Jesus chose to leave his earthly dwelling because of his God-ordained mission. And before that, Jesus left his home of heaven to come to earth just so he could accomplish the will of God.
Part of it is that Jesus knew where his true home was, it was with the Father.
Lue 9:57-62 reads:
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
If we are to be followers of Jesus, it might require us to leave our homes. It might require us to leave our families behind along with the affairs of this world. It will require that we serve God wholeheartedly without looking back.
Jesus followed God into homelessness, to a ministry as a wandering traveller, and into death. He gave up the riches and grandeur of heaven out of love for his Father, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.
We often look down on the homeless. Especially since many of them choose their lifestyle, we view them as less-than-human. Even though many such reasons for homelessness are not as noble as that of Christ, I can’t help but wonder: if Jesus were here today, would we paint him with the same brush we paint the other homeless people? I would wager that we would. The religious leaders of the day called him a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of evildoers. That sounds a lot like the tones we take when talking about the homeless
Jesus cared about the poor, both the physically poor, and the spiritually poor. He spent time with the lower classes of society, healing them, teaching them, loving them.
A man named Shane Claiborne said, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?” I think this is a very important question.
All too often we look on the poor with so much self-righteous indignation. We look down on them, we judge them, and we think we are so much better than they are.
In a ministry where I used to serve, we often had street people come through our doors. There was one man who would stop by to visit every so often, and every time I met him he was drunk. He would want some tea and a place to warm up in the dreadful cold winters. Though I met him many times, he never remembered me because of how much alcohol he had consumed. Every time he came, for him it was as if we were meeting for the first time. Like most drunk people, his smell was not too pleasant, and there were many moments where I secretly passed harsh judgement on him. But I would make him some tea, I would read the Bible to him, or turn on some Johnny Cash for him to listen to as he would so often request.
One day, this man once again came through our doors, he once again did not remember that we had met many times before, and I once again went to make him some tea. It was a cold winter evening, and I was working late, and when I came back I found him fast asleep while sitting in our reception area. I set his tea down, and with my cup in hand I returned to the reception desk and tried to continue working. From my spot at the desk I could see him sleeping, and I had a difficult time focusing on my work. So I stared at him. I sat there for a long time just looking at him because something amazing happened. His appearance didn’t change at all, and neither did his smell. But in that moment, it was as if I were staring into the face of Jesus himself. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Though nothing changed in this man’s appearance, something changed in my heart as I understood this verse on a new and deeper level. In serving this man tea, in letting him warm up from the bitter cold, it was as if I were serving tea to Jesus himself. It was as if I had tea with Jesus and saw the face of Christ.
If we just ignore the poor when it is in our power to help, even in the smallest way, we ignore an opportunity to serve our Lord Jesus Christ. We often think of sin in terms of things that we do. Many Christians are good at abstaining from things we consider sin, which is a good thing, however I would argue that these same people are also guilty of another sin; not because of what they have done, but because of what they haven’t—James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
As churches we are usually very preoccupied with what we don’t do, but I believe we should also be focused on what we should do. If we know what we should do, but don’t do it, we sin. We know that Jesus cared for the poor, and his life is an example of leaving riches behind to live among the poor and minister to them/us. We claim we want to be more like Jesus, yet for many of us we are becoming more and more concerned for ourselves and our own rights instead of becoming more and more concerned for those less fortunate, and giving up our rights to help. Though the poor were not the only thing that Jesus was concerned about, it did not change the fact that he did care, enough to do something to help. So too should we.
Like all things Jesus did, he did them to bring glory to the Father, and so it would seem that caring for the poor is directly connected to bringing God glory. Helping the poor is—or at least can be—an act of worship to God. Or to use the terminology of our church’s vision, reaching out is one way that we can reach up. Let us not neglect the poor when it is in our power to act. May we all come to care more for the things that are dear to God’s heart.
Bonus: Here is a great song called “Face of Christ” by Chris Rice