There are way too many homeless in my town, and not nearly enough people or places to help them. There’s an overpass that crosses the big commercial street, and there is always someone there.
“Need help. Will work.”
“Homeless and hungry.”
“Family member with cancer. Anything will help.”
I met a man under that bridge. He has no ID, and no way to get ID. He has been turned away from shelters. He has been living on the streets for FIVE YEARS. He jokingly told me that none of the cops harass him anymore, because they all know exactly who he is.
I can’t express how angry his whole story makes me. I live in Tennessee, which I like to refer to as the Buckle of the Bible Belt. There are churches every half mile in this town. There are big churches, small churches, and churches in between. Some of them help a great deal. Some of them don’t help at all. But, there are enough of them that no one should go without food and shelter for any length of time.
Let me say this again: with the number of churches in our town, NO ONE should have to go without food and shelter for ANY LENGTH OF TIME.
Most of these churches are content to kick the homeless over to our local food ministry, Manna Cafe. And, they do their best to take care of them, as much as they can. But, people like the man I met under the bridge need a lot more than one small organization can give them. Without ID, my friend isn’t even a person in the eyes of the government. He can’t get a checking account. He can’t get a job. He can’t get a phone. He can’t drive a car. He can’t do anything to improve his situation, without someone that has the resources and the WILLINGNESS to commit to HELP him improve his situation.
It makes me so angry that I could spit. It makes me so angry that I want to punch something.
It makes me so angry that I want to go make a whip out of reeds.
Most days, I get angry, I get sad, and then I just resign myself to the fact that 90% of the people who see them will pass them by. Then, I commit myself to being a part of the 10% that sees a person, instead of a problem. But, most days, it ends with that “quiet desperation”, a resignation to the fact that there is very little hope for men and women like that. As a society, we just don’t care.
But, today was different. Today was Palm Sunday. Today, we talked about the commitment of Jesus to begin His road to the Cross. We talked about our need for Good Friday, our need to pick up our own cross, before we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter. We had the kids wave around palm leaves, and we sang songs with the word “Hosanna” in them. I had a really wonderful, deep experience at church this morning.
And, when I saw the man under the bridge, followed by the hordes of people at the restaurant – dressed in their “church clothes” – I thought to myself, “Where are all the crosses?”
It’s sometimes considered controversial theology to say that Jesus has a special place for the poor and homeless, for the sick and infirm, for the hopeless and helpless. The attitudes that Jesus faced in His public ministry is still prevalent in our society today: that wealth and power are a sign of God’s favor. Even though that flies in the face of every word of the Gospel, we still think that the wealthy and the powerful are somehow blessed by God, that they have the Lord’s favor, that their authority and privilege derives from the same Jesus that told a rich young ruler to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor.
But, I truly, deeply believe that the poor are the favored ones, that their crosses are being carried already, and that our job is to be the ones that help take the weight when they stumble. I believe that when we stubbornly hoard our resources, when we look down on those men and women holding signs under bridges, we curse ourselves, we damn ourselves. It is the great sin of our society that we ignore the most vulnerable among us, that we place the blame for their destitution on the very ones that are destitute.
We watch them struggle under the weight of their cross, and we curse them for not carrying it better.
But where are our crosses? Why aren’t we falling all over ourselves to help bear that weight? Why aren’t we emptying our hearts, our pantries, our wallets to help lighten the load on the poorest among us? Why aren’t we pounding on the doors of our churches, begging for our brothers and sisters to be let in from the cold? Why aren’t we marching on our city halls, on our state capitals, demanding that we do more to lift up the poor?
Because it’s hard. Because it takes away from what we think we deserve. Because we want it to be someone else’s problem. Because we think the poor are somehow deserving of their own poverty, that the homeless somehow chose to live under the bridges, out in the cold. We want to believe that their destitution is their responsibility, and no one else’s. Because, if we absolve ourselves of responsibility, then we can pass right by. Not a second look. Not a moment’s remorse.
“They made their bed.”
“They should get a job.”
If you’re a person who doesn’t believe that they have an obligation to help those less fortunate… move along. Nothing to see here.
But, if you’re a person who dares to claim that they follow Jesus… if you’re a person who rejoices in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday:
Pick up your cross.
Help someone else carry theirs when the weight gets too heavy.
If you can’t do this, if you can’t bear the scars and the splinters, the bruises and the battering of following Jesus into the Garden and up the hill of Golgotha, then don’t bother rejoicing on Easter Sunday.
You can’t have a resurrection without a cross.
You can’t have a new life without first dying.
To pretend that you can is to have a counterfeit faith.