We think of shelter as a basic requirement of life, but many people simply don’t have a roof over their heads or a safe place to live. For many of us, the line between our homes and being homeless is a thin one that can disappear with the death of a spouse, the loss of a job or an illness.
Do we make a conscious effort to see each homeless person as a human being worthy of dignity and acknowledgement. In big cities we train ourselves to look away from those who make us uncomfortable. But eye contact and a “good morning” to someone who is homeless can make both of us feel a little more human.
How do we feel about immigrants who come to our shores for safety? Down through history, there have always been a certain number of people who were homeless and harborless. We as Christians need to treat the immigrants with respect and according to their human dignity, as we would want to be treated ourselves.
What about homeless shelters in our areas? Are there ways I can assist? What support, supplies or donations can we offer them? For the many children in homeless shelters, do I have toys I can donate? Most children in shelters have few possessions of their own and a book or game could be a great gift.
“The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, was born in a borrowed manger, had no fixed address once he began his public ministry, and was buried in another man’s grave. It is quite an irony: He, who made the universe, became a homeless person.
The plight of millions of refugees driven from their homes by war may seem far away from our nation, but homelessness is also right on our doorstep. There is a danger that, like the rich man in the parable, we no longer see the Lazarus we practically have to step over.
We encounter every day those, like the Son of Man, who have nowhere to lay their head. Some of them suffer from serious mental illness and are beyond the help of any but those with professional training. But a kind word, and some spare change, can brighten their day. When in doubt, it is better to err on the side of charity.
This corporal work of mercy forces us to open our eyes to the misery of those who, for a variety of reasons, have no place they can call home. We often show more empathy for stray dogs or cats than human beings.
This work of mercy also invites to ask ourselves how hospitable we are. The Letter to the Hebrews urges us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2). Jesus comes to us in disguises. Remember his last judgment discourse in Matthew 23, “Whatever you do to one of these least of my brethren, you do to me.”
Jesus, Son of God, is the fullest revelation of God. But it is not only the New Testament that talks about hospitable and charitable behavior to our neighbor. Jesus’ message of love everyone, treat everyone as you wish to be treated is certainly foretold in the Old Testament.
Numerous passages in the Old Testament show how visitors are to be treated: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt Exodus “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” Leviticus 19:33-34. And Proverbs: “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Proverbs 28:27
And “home” is not just a house. How about the lonely, the alienated, the disaffected, the outsider? Can’t this corporal work of mercy extend to more than those with a house to call their own!
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