Saturday night, we were blessed to receive several tickets to the Charlotte Bobcats basketball game. The Chicago Bulls were in town, and I have to admit, I was very excited. The Bulls have been my favorite NBA team since the late 80’s. It would be my first time to watch them live, and I was pumped and ready for the experience. We parked a couple miles away from the arena and walked. It was cold. Once the sun faded into the horizon, the temperature dropped quickly. The wind ripped through in gusts reaching more miles per hour than I would have wanted. Even with jackets on, we were all gritting our teeth and shivering from the frigid air.
Then I noticed the man sleeping under the bridge, and my heart sank.
With one quick glance, my excitement for the game diminished into a gut-wrenching reality. I’ve written about the homeless before. I penned an Open Letter to Society where I attempted to put myself in the place of someone living on the streets. However great my intentions were in the moment, I can’t possibly fathom what it’s like to survive in a world completely opposite of our own. Well, it was nearing six o’clock, and we were already running behind. We continued on to our destination inside the Time Warner Cable arena, where the warmth embraced us like the father who welcomed home his prodigal son.
I enjoyed the game and the atmosphere, but inside, the image of that man sleeping under the bridge haunted me. Our friend said there were several people who lived beneath that same covering of concrete and steel. They stopped asking others for anything a long time ago. Our first instinct, when a homeless person asks for money, is to cringe inside and either ignore them, or shake our heads and keep on walking. I completely understand that feeling. However, an excuse that the person may abuse the money on drugs or alcohol doesn’t make up for our indifference. Yes, I’ve given people money when they asked for it, but I would much rather buy them a value meal from McDonald’s, or take them a coat. Like everything else, there are many opinions on the issue of homelessness in our country. I’m not here to debate those with anyone.
I’m talking about a loss of interest in basic humanity. We don’t know the story behind the woman with a cardboard sign standing at the intersection. We assume the man lying on the park bench is a drug abuser. We say the crippled man on the corner begging is just faking a disability to gain sympathy. Is the “we can’t help everyone” mentality crushing our desire to love these people regardless of their appearance, story, or capability to seek employment? But wait, God helps those who help themselves, right? Isn’t that the mantra we use as Christians to avoid associating with people who make us feel uncomfortable?
You can search the Bible page by page, verse by verse, and you will never find that phrase anywhere. In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite. The entire point of Jesus dying on the cross was because there was nothing we could do in our own power to obtain salvation. If God only helps those who help themselves, we are all doomed to an eternity in Hell. Romans 5:6 says this:
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,Christ died for the ungodly.
Jesus died for the homeless, the ones standing on a street corner begging, that man lying on the park bench, the woman outside the fast food joint hoping someone will buy her a burger, and the very same man I saw sleeping under that bridge. The blind, the leper, and the lame were all powerless to help themselves, and Jesus helped them anyway.
What’s our excuse?