Mr. Sparks gratefully acknowledges John Ashmen’s leadership in serving the homeless and for his writing to open our hearts.
In my capacity as CEO of Faith Mission and Faith Refuge one concern I hear a lot about has to do with people taking advantage of our generosity. I can’t tell you how many people lecture me on the amount of abuse there is in the system and how those “lazy people” just need to get a job. I saw an actress on TV the other day wearing a t-shirt that said, “Stop Being Poor”.
There, that oughta fix em. Right!?
But really, I get it. I don’t want to feed the problem. I know there are cons and liars. Believe me, one of my core principles is to be as good a steward as possible with our resources. I don’t want to waste money. My dad used to call it “throwing good money after bad.” All of our resources come from individuals, churches and private sources who give it in good faith expecting us to spend it in good faith.
But we can’t let the system or the abusers keep us from doing what God has commanded us to do. We have to figure it out.
At the shelters, we will keep trying to improve our processes and increase the accountability. We will keep trying to know their stories. We will find out what got them there in the first place. We will help them set goals and make plans for a better life. We will show them options for taking responsibility for their lives. But when we do all this, what we become is …
If we are going to decide who deserves to be helped and who deserves to be passed over, shouldn’t we know something about them? Shouldn’t we talk to them? Shouldn’t we hear them? Shouldn’t we see them?
In the 10th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel, when the expert in the Jewish Law asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”, his general understanding was that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was talking about other Jews. In other words, my neighbor is someone just like me. His question was probably meant to get Jesus to validate this belief and practice.
Read for yourself Luke 10:25-29
Jesus, not being One to miss a teachable moment, launched into a parable that we commonly refer to as The Good Samaritan.
Read Luke 10:30-34
There were two questions asked and answered that day that we can’t see in the text, but they were surely part of the decision-making process of the three passersby.
You see, what we know about that 17-mile stretch between Jerusalem and Jericho was that it was a constant crime scene. Outlaws and robbers loved it and frequented it and travelers hated it. It was not unusual for thieves to get one of their own to fake an injury and when the concerned passerby wasn’t looking, he would be jumped, beaten, robbed and left for dead.
Maybe that’s why the priest and the Levite passed by on the other side.
But not the Samaritan. Not this very unlikely hero. Not only did he stop and help the man, but he did so at the risk of harm to himself.
Now, here are the questions. These are two questions posed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the last speech he gave before his tragic death. In that speech called, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, Dr. King said, the first question the priest and Levite each asked whenever they saw the man was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Samaritan came by, he reversed the question: “If I don’t stop and help this man, what will happen to him?’
You see, in a way the man on the side of the road had become invisible to the priest and the Levite. Their “invisible neighbor”. All they saw were his circumstances … not him, a person hurting in need of a helping hand. The Samaritan on the other hand saw nothing but the person. Putting aside the danger, the inconvenience and the mess, he stopped. To us it may have seemed irresponsible. We might have told him, “don’t get involved.”
Next time, I want to look at some of the factors that lead to “Invisible Neighbors.” For now, which question are you asking when you see someone in need?
Every person has a story,
Ashmen, J. (2014). Invisible Neighbors. Colorado Springs: agrm.org.