There are a variety of opinions in regard to the homeless, and most of us have heard (or even voiced) the following: They don’t deserve a handout. No one is twisting their arms, forcing them to shoot up or buy another bottle. No one forced them to leave their families to go live under a bridge somewhere.
Plenty of people land on the street through little or no fault of their own—yet it’s also true that some are less than model citizens. I learned this early on. Eight years ago, when my husband, Kenny, and I were serving in Tent City in Nashville, there was Howard, the sex offender. Then there was Sarah, a twenty-something girl who made money by posing for online porn photos. And there was Donny, who mentioned the first time I met him that he’d just finished a lengthy stint in prison. Within a month or so he ended up back in jail for threatening to remove a man’s head with a hacksaw. Every town, including Clarksville, has its Howards and Sarahs and Donnies. It’s not uncommon to ask about one of our mobile soup kitchen regulars only to be told, “He’s back in jail, didn’t ya hear?”
I love Kenny’s point of view. He’s convinced that if someone is capable of being a functioning member of society but chooses to live under a bridge, it’s because he believes it’s all he deserves, and therefore that person needs our acceptance even more than most. He needs to know that Jesus died for and loves him. Therefore, whatever the reason for a person’s destitution, it’s our duty to feed, love, and welcome him as much as possible.
Here’s the crazy thing about grace: The model citizen doesn’t deserve it any more than the pedophile or the prostitute or the guy who sells drugs to 12-year-olds. This seems outrageously unfair; surely Mother Teresa was at least a teeny bit more deserving of heaven than the repeat offender who made an eleventh-hour confession, right? Wrong. If grace were about fairness, it would cease to be grace.
One of the most liberating things you can do is be brutally honest about your own immense and imminent potential for sin. It will make you acutely aware of God’s mercy and prompt you to extend grace to others without hesitation. You’ll look at the homeless man and see yourself looking back. You’ll look in the mirror and see a thief. The person who lavishly loves others is the one who acknowledges, “I am the worst of sinners. I don’t deserve Jesus. And yet He loves me, and sees me as perfect and beautiful.”