What to do if you’re not sure someone is Homeless

We were in D.C. a couple weeks ago visiting our daughters, Katy and Maggie.  One morning I was at a Starbucks waiting for Maggie.  I was sitting at a table outside at the busy intersection of 15th and K.  Sitting next to me was an African American man.  Here’s what went through my mind…

He looks like he might be homeless.                                                 We usually keep McDonald’s gift cards to give to people in need who we might meet, but I don’t have any with me right now.  I do have my CVS Pharmacy Frequent customer card…                                                                                                                                    He has a multiple plastic bags and he’s drinking milk from a half-gallon jug.              Maybe he’s not homeless!  (maybe I have no responsibility)                                                 He has a scraggly beard, but his clothes don’t look dirty.                                                   He’s bought a drink from Starbucks and he’s not asking for money or anything, just eating his breakfast.                                                                                                                        D.C. has one of the highest crime rate in the nation – lots of angry people.  What if  I say “Hi” and he gets angry, pulls out a gun, and shoots me!? (ok, maybe I have a bit of an imagination)

I figure my choices are:

a.  Pray fervently that he’s an eccentric millionaire and will finish his breakfast and go to go to his fancy office.                                                                                                                            b. Move to a different table where I can do my devotions and read about Jesus without having to worry about homeless people.                                                                         c.  Leave Starbucks, try to find a McDonald’s, come back, and “accidentally” drop a gift card along with a nice Bible verse on his table as I walk by.                                                    d.  Say, “Hi, my name is Laura, are you homeless (or a psychopath and if so please don’t shoot me)?”

Maggie and a friend arrived and the man left, but I continued to think about him the rest of the day.  As I reflected on what Jesus would have done, what struck me was that it wouldn’t have mattered whether the person was homeless or a housewife, a drug-addict or a demagogue.

I think He would have made a point of acknowledging them – of honoring the person by looking them in the eye with love and respect, and if nothing else, I think He would have greeted them, because who doesn’t want to feel noticed and welcomed?

I think the bottom line is that Jesus would always turn TOWARDS and not away. (I LOVE Mark 10:21 when Jesus is with the rich young ruler – “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”)

So who am I turning away from today?  Or who am I too self-conscious or self-absorbed to speak to?  Where is Jesus in all of this?

Have you ever been in a situation like this where you weren’t sure what Jesus would do? Or you knew what He’d do, but it felt too uncomfortable for you?

6 Comments

  1. I loved reading this reflection. It is very meaningful and brought to mind another situation. Many times each day, in the DC area where I live, I am stopped at intersection with a person – male or female – who has a sign saying homeless please help (it seems all the intersections have regulars now) and many approach each car while the light is red. I have spent much time thinking about and praying about what to do with no answer. Any thoughts on what Jesus would do?

    • Oh so hard when there are so many in need! It is not as common here in Minneapolis as in D.C., but still. I was just driving home and there was a homeless man with a sign at the stoplight. I do keep McDonald’s gift cards with me and was able to wave this guy over (across two lanes of traffic with the light turning green), but I really wrestle/d with what to say in that quick moment…how to convey respect, care, support…encourage… I’d love to hear more from others.

  2. Stumbled upon your blog while tag surfing. Good post! I too think about how Jesus was always concerned about the people connections. I can tell you from the personal interactions with the homeless that I’ve had, eye contact and acknowledging them is important. If you don’t mind, I’ll stop back and visit again! 🙂

    • Thanks Denise! So glad you did! It looks like you’re involved in a cool ministry for the homeless in S.C.! You really seem to be loving them just as they are and where they are!!

  3. I really liked this post. In my rural area of MN I don’t see many homeless but no matter – I really like the idea of having extra things (like the gift card) to give out. I also love the quote about Jesus looking at the man and loving him. I pray that my eyes would be open to those around me and that I would see them through the eyes of Christ and not the distain that so many in the world have.

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