I want to tell you a story.
There was a church. A church full of good, loving people. People who love God. People who love people.
One Sunday, a homeless man wandered onto the property of this church, walked into the nearest building, and wandered into a classroom. He came walking in just as this Sunday School class was about to begin.
He sat down, placing a worn and weathered backpack against the wall.
The class began as normal. Having a visitor in the class meant introductions. Those were completed quickly and the lesson began.
Throughout the planned lesson, the visitor often interjected his thoughts. At times what he said was succinct and contributed to the discussion. More often, however, his comments weren’t on topic and often were rambling.
A good many in the class sat listening, almost humoring this interesting visitor to their class. A few looked a bit perturbed that their normal class had taken a bit of a detour that day. There was a general feeling of uneasiness that grew each time he spoke up.
The teacher responded well, trying to keep the discussion on topic in a friendly manner.
At one point the homeless man stood up, left the room. Glances all around wondering if he would come back. Of course he would come back – he left his bag in the room. His only belongings. It says a lot about his faith in church folk – that they wouldn’t rifle though his stuff. Turns out he just need a visit to the bathroom.
He was asked how he came to the church – was he invited, had he planned to attend? He mentioned he was just walking down the road and thought he would see what it was about. He hadn’t been to church in a while, he said.
As the class came to a close, it was time for prayer. He sat there and said, “Could you pray for me?” before listing a myriad of health troubles and the red tape often associated with medical treatment requiring government assistance. His prognosis was not the best.
Prayer was offered and class was over. Class members got up, knowing that the church service would be starting, children would need to be picked up, the typical between services flurry of activity. Some hurried out to go serve in a nursery or prepare to sing in the service.
The homeless man picked up his bag, walked out the hallway door, and headed down the drive to the road.
Was that the end? Is this some kind of parable? No.
This story is true. This story haunts me. Why? Let’s look at scripture…
Matthew 25: 41-45 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[g] For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
I remember sitting there in the class. I remember the turmoil I felt inside. Thinking this situation was kinda bizarre. Since when do homeless people just walk into churches that cater primarily to middle class and even somewhat affluent people? There was a serious case of cognitive dissonance going on in my head that day. How to help? What to do?
From what I observed… I don’t think any of us knew what to do. All I know is I left church that day feeling like something should have been done.
Over the course of the next few months, God’s moving in my life something fierce… it’s scary, it’s awesome. I wish I could say I’m welcoming all the change and upheaval. Sometimes I am and sometimes I push back (I wish I could tell the story of this incredible life-altering change in my thinking and theology in chronological order, but I think I’ve explained before I’m kinda ADD when it comes to writing).But inside, there is a stirring. A deep longing to do more. An clearer awareness of the hurting and the poor and the outcasts and the marginalized. A desire to see the faith community rise up and tackle the needs just outside our door in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
All this time, the homeless man haunts my thoughts.
Then, a few months back, I’m reading Jen Hatmaker’s book Interrupted.
Quick sidebar: READ THIS BOOK. If it doesn’t change you, bring you to your knees, and fire you up all at the same time, then you are either Mother Teresa who’s doing something or you are a lost cause. I don’t know how you can read this book and just feel “meh” about anything…. Interrupted is going to be one of my all-time most recommended books. Church, read it, please! Move it to the top of your to-read list.
Anyway, she says about that Matthew 25 passage above, “Never once did Jesus charge them with something they did wrong. His entire indictment was on what they didn’t do right. It was a sin of neglect, a crime of omission. And it went far beyond ignoring poverty. Jesus explained that when we ignore the least, we ignore Him (emphasis mine).”
When I read that passage, I began to weep… and I asked God to forgive me… to forgive us all that were in that class that day. It was as if Jesus walked into our Sunday School class and not a one of us got that. We didn’t see what was right there in front of us. The least of these… if we ignore them, we ignore Him.
What should we have done during that class? Was the lesson so important that we couldn’t stop for a minute and ask him if he needed a meal? We could have run somewhere to get him food. We could have en masse relocated the class to Waffle House, Bojangles, IHOP and broke bread with the man. Why didn’t we Do Something?
I remember hearing someone ask him after class if he wanted to attend the service. We missed the forest for the trees. Christians can get so caught up in trying to win a man’s soul that we don’t think about filling his belly first. Did we think about that? Maybe someone did. Maybe someone ran after him and asked.
I know I didn’t. And that troubles me…
I wonder about him. I wonder if he received the medical treatment he needed. I wonder if he’s still wandering the streets. I wonder if he made it though this bitter winter. I wonder… I wonder if he’s walked down the street and wandered into any other churches.