Though few like to admit it, a catastrophic illness or other major setback can leave anyone on the brink of homelessness. And, features like this shows that many homeless are families with nowhere to turn.
What is the key to helping such people?
Many try to blame or credit the policies of one party of another, but Jesus said “The poor you will always have with you.” This doesn’t mean that they will be poor on purpose. This just means that in this fallen, sinful world, circumstances will not be rosy for everyone. Jesus was exhorting us to care for the poor and love them as His disciples loved Him.
When we look at Matthew 26:7-12, in fact, we see in the context that a woman had come with a box of ointment, and poured it onto the Lord. (Note that this was *not* the same woman who wiped His feet with her tears. This woman was in a totally different situation and poured the box on His head to boot.)
She was criticized and it was mentioned that the box, full of a very special and expensive ointment, could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus then remarked that the poor would always be with us. Further, He said that she had done this in preparation for His burial, as He was soon to be crucified for our sins, taking our punishment, dying, and then rising from the dead. She had done this to show her love for the Savior.
When Jesus says that we will have the poor with us always, but we will not have Him always, He is not saying to sell everything and give to the poor, though that is one option if a person feels led to do so. He is also not saying that things of value are what the poor are seeking. That is looking only at the outside, at the box this woman had.
God wants us to look upon the heart, though – that is where He always looks. And, it is on the heart of this woman that Jesus wants us to look. Because, in seeing how she loved Him, we can see how we ought to love and help those who are homeless – or just really poor.
It is most important to give them hope. Yes, soup kitchens are wonderful, and most churches that follow Christ and seek to make a difference in their community will provide some kind of help for the poor. It may not be a soup kitchen, it may be something else. The key is, it will be something that will not only minister to the peoples’ physical needs, but to their spiritual.
A number of Proverbs and other Biblical sayings mirror the concept of this famous saying – “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Jesus certainly gave people fish and other great things – He healed the sick, cleansed lepers, raised the dead, and many other great miracles. Peoples’ physical needs were met. That was wonderful. It was satisfying for a while. But,t he 5,000 who were fed the loaves and fish wound up hungry again. Lazarus, who was called out of the tomb, died again. And so on.
Jesus called people to receive His spiritual blessings, though. He wanted people to recognize that they had needs which went beyond the physical. He wanted people to do as the woman at the well in John 4, when He told her He had water springing up into everlasting life, a well which would never run dry. This woman responded, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come here to draw.” (John 4:15) While she was still focused a little on her physical needs, she was starting to realize that there was also a deep longing in her.
So, you may ask, what does this have to do with the poor or the homeless?
These are not just people who have no money or homes. The poor and the homeless are people with a deep longing for something better. If we ignore or scold them, we are making them feel worse. If we only give them nourishment or a gift, they will be satisfied for a while, but they will feel empty again, just like the woman at the well had to come to draw water each day. By providing hope for them, however, we can truly shower that love upon them that Jesus wants us to shower upon them. The riches which will matter the most go beyond the mere cost of an alabaster box of ointment.
Some will complain that there are people who use the system and are poor on purpose. There are a few of them, but that doesn’t mean all are like that. But, let’s look at them for a moment. They are that way for the same reason he woman at the well in John 4 kept going after different men; she’d had five husbands and the man she was with now was not her husband. Jesus didn’t condemn her, though – he went to her to provide her with something better.
Those who misuse the system are like the Samaritan woman with her men when she hadn’t experienced the unconditional love and goodness that comes from a personal relationship with jesus Christ. There is a God-sized hole in each of our hearts that only Jesus can fill. He showed her the way to let Him – who is the way, the truth, and the life – work in her heart so she could follow Him and be an example of Jesus to others in what she did and how she behaved. In the same way, those who misuse the system need to be shown, in a loving way, how serving the Lord is so much more fulfilling, because they can earn for themselves treasures in heaven. They need to be shown it’s worth it, and encouraged to become more productive.
However, the main thing we must be concerned with is those who are not poor by choice. Because, as noted in the beginning, there are many like that. They have likely tried, some given up hope. We don’t know which someone is, so we should presume that the poor person is trying. By showing them the love that Jesus has for them, we are giving them hope, which as noted, is the main thing.
For each group, of course, the adage applies that we should not only give them a fish, but where applicable teach them to fish. However, merely teaching them to fish, so to speak, isn’t enough to truly restore hope to them.
All of us have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. We are all poor in our lack of a relationship with Christ until the moment when we call out to Him, “Lord, save me.” Just as the many poor, diseased, and so on called on Jesus in His earthly ministry, each of us must realize we need His perfect gift of salvation.
Rich and poor alike, then, must recognize that God has a plan for their lives, a plan which first of all includes them letting him make them new on the inside, cleansing their sins through His finished work on the cross. Then, they will not be building treasures on earth, where moth and rust can corrupt, and thieves can steal; they will be building treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust cannot corrupt and thieves can’t steal. Where our treasure is, there is where our heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
That plan is not just to get them to Heaven, though – He wants to help each of us believers right here on earth to get throughh everything and to feel His love and closeness all the time when we remain close to Him.
Part of that personal relationship is being able to take all our cares and concerns to Him. He wants to help us through this world becasue that is how we can show others what He has done for us so they can have that peace and comfort. The old say is that we’re just beggars teling other beggars where to find bread.
By showing them how to follow Jesus, then, we are helping the poor, the homeless, and so on to realize they don’t have to despair about their situation. They don’t have to keep waiting for a handout and thinking this is all there is. They don’t have to fret thinking that if they don’t find something they’re a failure. Because, you know what? If they are only going for something in this life, they are going for something that will get old, wear out, and so on; something that will not last forever the way Heavenly treasures will.
That makes them just the same as the rich. If they are only focusing on a small shack, they are in the same position as the rich person only focusing on a million dollar home. They are focusing on an investment which will not last. Whether we have $1 or $1 billion when we die, we will all answer to God. And, what He will ask is this – Were your sins washed away by the blood of Calvary’s cross? Did you call on Jesus to save you with something like this – “Lord Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and don’t deserve Your perfect heaven. But, I know You died for my sins and rose from the dead. Lord Jesus, I accept You as my Savior, I turn from my sins and call on You to come into my heart and save me. I believe you took all the punishment for my sins and and I trust in You alone to get me to heaven when I die. I Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The words aren’t what saves you, of course, it’s Jesus who saves when you call on him.
But what you might be asking is, how will this help the poor and homeless now? Well, remember that Jesus didn’t just tell people to follow Him, He gave them things, too. But, that giving needs to be with an attitude of, “Just as I am giving you this physical thing, be it food, clothing, or whatever, Jesus has something spiritual that is special for you.” People will be much more likely to listen if we give a thing with our message.
Or, at the very least, if we give a kind ear, so that person can tell about the spouse who took all they had, or the cancer, or the house fire, or the lost job. Then, they will see that someone cares about them and who they are inside.
Then, we can show them Matthew 6:33 and the verses before it. How that if they seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, all these things will be added unto them; the things Jesus is talking about in the previous verses are necessities, like food, clothing, and shelter. They may mean a job for someone. They might mean a friend. Whatever that need is, Jesus can meet it, but he wants them to realize His love and Lordshp It is Jesus who provides us all with every need, it is ultimately His love that lets us have whatever we have.
And, that is true of rich and poor alike. Some people are in a position to do moer for Him. But, the peson who is in the center of His will – whether that will is for them to be rich or poor – is in the safest place they can be. Because, he wants us all to tell others of His great love and the great hope which is in Christ Jesus; a hope that is there for everyone, which we celebrate this time of year.