“Hugging a homeless person may give you lice. I’ve had lice several times. But there are medicines that will rid you of the lice.”
Cathie’s opening sentence grabbed our attention.
She went on to tell us of a recent encounter she had with a homeless man in the Pearl district of Portland. The sign he held asked for $1. She asked him, “If I give you a dollar will that buy your next beer?” He replied, “No, I prefer whiskey.”
She continued, “What is the hardest thing for you in asking for money like this?” His reply was immediate, “No one will look me in the eye.” No respect.
Why should I treat a homeless person with respect?
Isn’t the current situation in which he finds himself the result of his own poor choices? Addictions, promiscuity, running away, breaking the law, etc. OK, bad breaks– perhaps he was laid off work, but shouldn’t he have wisely saved money for such a situation? What about a single parent? One income generally means tight budget. Yet, what poor choices led her to this place? Shouldn’t her family care enough to help?
Sure, each human being is created in the image of God. Is that reason enough to treat a homeless man who prefers whiskey and is likely to take my dollar and spend it on more drink, with respect? Doesn’t he have to earn my respect or do I respect him just because he is an image bearer?
Doesn’t wisdom tell me not to give a dollar because that will only enable him to drink more? Certainly wisdom does tell me not to give cash to everyone who asks. But what does that wisdom say about showing respect and love?
A well known male author perpetrates the idea that women want love and men want respect. As a woman, I would like to counter that. Women want to be treated with respect as much as men do. If I’m “loved” without being respected, that can lead to all kinds of painful victimization.
If I’m respected, that says you value me and in my view, that is what healthy love is about: expressions of value.
Can you deeply love someone and not respect them? Can you respect someone and not feel some benevolence or affection toward them?
Scanning Webster’s Online Dictionary definition of both love and respect reveal similar words.
Respect: To take notice of; to regard with special attention; to regard as worthy of special consideration; hence, to care for.
Love: In a general sense to be pleased with; to regard with affection; to have benevolence or good will for. Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.
And then there are Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mind, you did for me.”
Place this alongside, “Love the Lord your God…love you neighbor as yourself,” and I’m left with asking why have I not been more compassionate toward the homeless?
Cathie Weise, the Director of My Father’s House a shelter for homeless families, spoke at our church on Sunday in our series on Compassion. She has also taught in my seminary classroom several times. She is a woman of faith like few I’ve met. She has listened to the Lord and allowed him to take her to places she might not have initially chosen. But God has not only met her there, he has enlarged her territory in incredible ways. My Father’s House is the largest privately funded family shelter of its kind in the United States, sheltering over 130 families each year. And it is right here, in my home town, Gresham. Since the 2008 opening, God has led the board to purchase an apartment complex for a second stage of re-entry possibilities for residents.
As Cathie would attest, I too have found that the residents at the shelter are most often “regular people” like you and me.
They are people created in the image of God, wanting the best for their children and willing to work.
Sometimes a spouse walks out on the family — the main source of the family’s income. Sometimes a job loss combined with loss of health contributes to ejection from their home. Sometimes poor choices combined with circumstances result in losses. Sometimes a lack of skill sets. Sometimes they are trying to mask internal pain.
Much like you and me.
New skills and understanding are given. Always, a relationship with Jesus Christ is offered and seen in the lives of staff and volunteers. The residents are loved and treated with respect.
Lice or not. Respect. Love.
Reminds me of Jesus.