Update: This story has turned out to be an urban legend, and therefore is not true. It is doing the rounds on the blogs and Facebook, and my Bishop reproduced it in good faith. This photo is one of a homeless man in London. All the same, I leave my article of yesterday in place for its value as a “modern parable”.
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The story is always the same. We all do it as we see down-and-outs in front of a railway station begging. Most are alcoholics and drug addicts, in most cases almost at the end of their lives. I have lived in London’s East End and seen methos (methylated spirit drinkers) found dead in winter and ignominiously taken away by the police in plastic bags. Our consciences work overtime, knowing that any money we give them will either not be enough or would be used to finance the “habit” rather than buy food and other essentials. What can we do?
Looking at something my Bishop put on Facebook, there is an incredible story of a new pastor of an Evangelical church:
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured [opposite]) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service….only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food….NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation……..”We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek”….The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation…..The homeless man sitting in the back stood up…..and started walking down the aisle…..the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him….he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment….then he recited
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning…many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame…. he then said….Today I see a gathering of people……not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples…when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week…….Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others.
In my own experience, most of us who have spent any time in cities will have become cynical by the sheer number of con-men, thieves and mafia-type organisations preying on the credulity and sense of pity of ordinary people. When I was in Rome, there were criminal organisations running prostitutes and professional beggars, using children they had bought from corrupt orphanage agencies in countries like Albania. I have often offered to buy food for someone appearing to be hungry – but they clearly wanted money for something else…
Obviously, the best thing is for a parish to run a soup kitchen, somewhere where truly homeless people can find a meal, a bed for the night and some second-hand clothes – but not money. It is best to have people give to such an organisation rather than directly to the people concerned. The example shows the indifference of many of us, compounded by our cynicism in the face of thieves and crooks. Perhaps it is a case of preferring to be deceived twenty times than unjust just once! There are also possibilities for us to do voluntary work for the homeless and donate money to organisations and agencies established to help them – and they are very good at distinguishing the those who have genuinely fallen upon hard times from those who are looking for “easy money”.