I have never been homeless, but still remember vividly a period in my life when I experienced some of the disorientation and destabilization that many homeless people know constantly. Someone accidentally opened the sprinkler system in my cabin on the Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis and its entire contents were flooded in black sludge. Most of my clothes were ruined and the stench made the cabin uninhabitable.
I felt helpless in the face of this disaster. For six months I moved from cabin to cabin while the carpenters slowly renovated it. At the same time Mercy Ships’ home office moved from California to Texas and I never knew where I would be staying during my frequent visits. At one stage I even slept on my office floor for a few nights because there was no other place available. Having a moving object in the middle of the sea as my only stability point was hard enough at the best of times but now I felt like a homeless refugee. My stress levels rose and I became increasingly irritable and depressed. Fortunately I was able to purchase a home near the office in Texas. Immediately I felt I knew where I belonged and I started to relax.
Homelessness is not easy to cope with even for those of us who have the resources to rapidly rebuild our lives. Imagine what is like for those who lack the financial and emotional resources to change their situation. Irritability, anger and selfishness are not uncommon amongst people who have been displaced and lost everything. In their attempt to regain some control over their lives refugees and displaced people often lash out at the very people who are trying to help them. Unfortunately this can create a vicious cycle of misunderstanding, resentment and withdrawal.
As I contemplate the plight of the millions worldwide who are homeless I am reminded that Christ too knew the uncertainty of homelessness. As a child he fled as a refugee into Egypt with his family and as an adult he “had no place to lay his head.” No wonder he was so sympathetic towards those who were displaced within his society. Perhaps when he looked at the beggar sitting by the city gate he was reminded of his own uncertain childhood. Perhaps as he reached out to embrace lepers and outcasts he was reminded of the times that he too was rejected by society.
As I read the story of the Good Samaritan I am reminded that Jesus often comes to us through the despised and rejected people of our world. The victim lying by the roadside was despised and rejected by the religious and economic leaders who walked by on the other side, yet he was embraced compassionately by the equally despised Samaritan.
If we see Jesus in the unlovely faces and broken lives of those who are despised and rejected by our society, then through God’s grace we too can reach out and be enfolded in his love. When we love those who are unlovely we experience the wonder of Christ’s compassionate embrace that willingly took upon himself the burden of every outcast who lies by the wayside despised by society yet welcomed and nursed to wholeness by the despised and rejected God of salvation.