Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”Jesus
What do you make of that verse written above—“the Son of Man has no place to lay his head?” When I hear it, I imagine Jesus basically living on the streets with his friends giving from his spiritual abundance freely while trusting that his material needs will be met through encounter with people who share their material abundance with him. He sees the entire Universe as his home and all of life as his family. And so, he sees no reason to cling to the temporary things of this world ignoring the eternal treasure that is the infinite wellspring of God’s grace. In other words, I think of Jesus as being what many in this culture would consider homeless.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus
One of the soul wounds that I’m still healing from, even after over twenty years of working on it, is when I allowed myself to believe that I was not a “real Christian” because some people decided I no longer passed their purity test. Because of the dissolution of my marriage, someone from church told me that God was going to abandon me. And in my ignorance, I believed them. Feeling like I was being rejected by the church, and consequently God, was so painful that I almost lost my mind. I mean, I was on the razor’s edge of a mental break because God was the love of my Life. But at the time, I thought that church sanctioned that relationship. It was only grace that pulled me back. So now, because I know how much being told that hurt me, I have a hard time when I feel like something I am going to say might come off as me putting another person’s Christianity in question. The way I see it, I can’t possibly know what God is doing in someone’s life. I know that my most transformative God encounter was when I was as close to becoming atheist as I’ll ever get. So I ask myself who am I to judge another’s journey?
So, even when I see people acting in ways that I think are contrary to Jesus’s teachings, I don’t want to suggest that they may not be “real Christians.” But, I’ll be honest and say that these past several years have really tested my resolve. Whether it’s on issues of race, poverty, the environment, or healthcare, I find that I am increasingly strained to not say something that might come off as doing to others what was done to me—one of the very fundamental teachings that Jesus tells us not to do.
Get the plank out of your eye…
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”Jesus
After 20 plus years of working on this, I am hoping that I’ve gotten enough of the plank out of my eye that some people will see that what I’m about to say is done in the spirit of service. So although I might still have some plank residue in my eye, I still feel compelled to offer my speck removing services in this area of how Jesus is represented.
Like many people, I was taught that being blessed meant that we could compel God to do our bidding by indebting God to us with our good deeds, church attendance, tithing, and supplications. And what’s more, blessings came in the form of getting what we want in the material realm. And if things didn’t go well for you, people were quick to suggest that you, the hurting person, had a hand in your misfortune and God is punishing you for it a la the way Job’s buddies thought. But as I’ve matured, I’ve come to accept that the Jesus story doesn’t teach us anything like that. Actually, I think it’s quite the opposite. And I feel like I have to say it.
But who really wants a homeless savior right?
Jesus was not a prosperity gospel preacher. Jesus would not be a gun enthusiast. Jesus supported free healthcare. Jesus honored the earth. Jesus was not misogynistic and he definitely wasn’t racist or nationalistic. At least not according to the Bible that I read. So the question for me is, what do I say to and how do I show love to people who have either been deceived or benefit from the deception that Jesus would be like any of this?
The way I have been doing it is by just not going off on people as people did on me. I just pray for them and trust that in due season God will reveal to them that Jesus is love incarnate and that he was sincere when he said, “What you’ve done to the least of these you’ve done to me.” In my encounters, I’ve maintained my position of love as best I can and sometimes beat myself up rather than allow my frustrations to get the best of me causing me to go off on other folks. I’ve also found myself feeling some responsibility for the harm that Christianity has done to so many people throughout history. And seeing the division in America in Jesus’s name just causes me so much grief because I love people from every Christian expression.
But in 2021, I feel like I can’t keep doing this. I’ve hit my max. And it all came to a head when I participated in the Boulder homeless memorial that I shared the video for in the blog post, Homelessness as an Indicator of Society’s Priorities. It was on that day that I knew that I can’t act like the shiny three piece suit wearing flag pin Jesus was anybody’s savior. I am not saying that people who roll like that can’t be followers of Jesus. But I can say that the person that they would be following would probably more closely resemble the guy Mike featured in the picture above than what we’ve been force fed by Christianity Inc.
Looking at all of this craziness in the world, I just can’t act like I don’t see what I see. And what I see is Christianity Inc. destroying the conscience and consciousness of people. The Gospel given to reveal the essential oneness of all life in God and a peace that surpasses all understanding has been used to build empires, colonize communities, and destroy the earth. And I feel like I am part of the problem if I don’t call it out. Jesus is not in the ivory tower. He is in the homeless camps and what we do to his brothers and sisters, we do to him.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
What part of this is missing people and why is it that the people who say that they are literalists, who say that every word of the Bible is “God-breathed”, are the first ones to justify ignoring it? Can someone tell me how this is possible because I just don’t get it? I am not saying people have to be perfect or give all of their possessions away or that they can’t be gabaquazillionaires. I just don’t get how anyone can justify saying that they believe every word of the Bible and skip over this or all of the other inconvenient parts that tell us that we are here to love God and neighbor as self without excuse. And, I mean even the annoying neighbors and the ones who don’t look like you, live like you, or even believe like you. I’m not saying it will be easy either. But in love, I just can’t listen to this anymore in 2021. Like sometimes it is polite to tell someone that they have a booger in their nose, if someone tries to tell me that they have the love of Christ but they try to tell me that they feel no responsibility for our society, I am pointing out the speck in love.
“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”1 John 3:17
If what I’m trying to share is not hitting its mark, check out the book Welcome Homeless by Alan Graham. In the book, Mr. Graham, founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes and Community First! Village, talks about his experience working with his friends in the homeless community in and around the Houston area. With heart and candor, he talks about how his relationships with his homeless neighbors has fed him and his faith as much as, if not more than, what he has done to feed that community.
When I read his book, it reminded me of experiences that I’ve had with members of the homeless communities in the places that I’ve lived in. What his book gave voice to was the abundance of faith and resilience and grace that is often found and extended among people who know what it’s like to be unseen. Now of course members of these communities are dealing with a lot of pain. There is addiction, mental health challenges, and crime and abuse. But there is so much more. And if you have eyes to see it, it is among these brothers and sisters that Christ most frequently finds a place to lay his head.
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.Isaiah 53:3
Bible readers, do you not know that this scripture is believed to refer to the one that you say you follow. And yet, how willing are you to draw close to the despised one? When you turn your eyes away from them, you turn your eyes away from him as well. Does he condemn you for it? I think not. Because as we know, he ate with those who would deny him and betray him and he loved them. He even forgave his murderers because he knew who he was and he knows who we can be. And he will continue to love us in all of our failings. Because even if he has no place to lay his head among us, we have a place to lay ours with him.
Christians, the man you claim as your savior was a despised homeless person. Face it and see where it takes you. And if you’re not Christian, no worries, because Jesus wasn’t either. Like each of us, he was born into a particular time to a particular people with a particular culture. But he was not limited by that. He transcended his particularities and yet worked with them to encounter people and even invite us into a greater sense of who we are. He showed up in an unexpected place in an unexpected way so that no one could boast. So I suggest that if you’re really trying to follow him, you might consider feeding him and giving him something to drink so that your own hungers and thirsts can be filled.
To hear a story from a member of the local homeless community who gave Christ a place to lay his head, see below: