I walked on by.
I was in Birmingham city centre the other day, and it was raining. People rushed by, intent on finding shelter and getting to where they needed to go. I was on my way to the station, in no particular hurry.
But I walked on by.
He was face down, in a grotty sleeping bag, the rain pounding the thin fabric. He could have been ill. He could have been dead. He was probably hungry, probably thirsty. Probably sad,
but I walked on by.
I could have stopped. Asked if he was okay. Bought him a drink and something to eat. Given him some money. I could have shown him some compassion, a fellow human being in a dark place.
But I didn’t.
I looked away, and I walked on by.
Just like all the other people, with their umbrellas and their warm coats and their phones and their important days.
Later, I thought about what Jesus said, in Matthew 25:35-40.
For 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.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“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.’
I had all the justifications in the world in my mind as I kept on walking. He might be on drugs. He might use the money for drink. You can’t help everyone. He might be dangerous. Violent. Aggressive.
He might need me.
But when Jesus said these words, did he make caveats? Did he say, ‘you should feed the hungry… but only if they deserve it?’ Or, ‘you should give homeless people money… but only if they aren’t going to spend it on alcohol?’ ‘You should clothe those who need clothes… but only if they’re nice and polite?’
But that’s one of the things I love so about Jesus. His abundant grace and reckless generosity, reflecting the Father heart of God. Jesus’ narrative was never about the deserving and the undeserving, the haves and the have nots. God never places conditions on his love, and that’s the kind of attitude we are called to reflect.
The latest figures for homelessness in the UK are sobering. One in every 200 people are now classed as homeless in some way – an increase of 13,000 over the last year alone. The recorded numbers have risen sharply every year since 2010, with government cuts and the rising cost of living fuelling the crisis. Many people simply cannot afford this most basic of human rights: shelter.
But what can we do? Should we stop at every homeless person and talk with them, provide for their needs? Ideally, yes, of course. But practically, we know it’s not possible. But just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we should do nothing.
But just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we should do nothing.
Every time we give to a homeless charity, or sponsor a friend who is taking part in an event to raise money for local homeless people, or give to a food bank, or buy The Big Issue, we are doing something. Every one of these actions is a ripple in the pond, and if there are enough ripples, there might, one day, be a huge wave.
I want to commend the work of a charity local to me, Stay Telford, a charity whose primary role is to provide support and housing for young homeless people in Telford, across a range of services and housing schemes. There are many ways we can support the work of Stay; we can donate, we can get involved in one of their local events, we can encourage our businesses and workplaces to sponsor and support them. Every year they put on a ‘Stay out’ event where people sleep outside for a night in a cardboard box, in winter.
These things may seem like a drop in the ocean. But they are still doing what Jesus asked us to do. They are still affording humanity to people and showing compassion.
Some may say these things are only sticking plasters, and there is little point to them. Some may say that if we are going to do anything, we should make it count. We should campaign and we should do more than pay lip-service to these things by actually doing something. But I would say that the little things are still something.
They still reflect a heart of compassion and a desire for justice.
I know they will never be enough.
I pray for that man in his tatty sleeping bag in the rain, and I am sorry. I am sorry I didn’t do him the honour of recognising his humanity.
I’m sorry I walked on by.Just because we can't do everything, doesn't mean we should do nothing. I walked on by - homelessness, humanity and the apathy of all of us. Click To Tweet I Walked On By - some thoughts on homelessness, and what I can do, and didn't do. Click To Tweet