I was going to write last week about a picture posted on New York Police Department's Facebook page of a NYPD officer giving boots to a homeless man. The picture, taken in November by a tourist, shows Officer Lawrence Diprimo giving the pair of boots that he had bought for him after observing that we was walking barefoot on a very cold night. I was a picture that reminded me part of the the Good Samaritan story and part of the story of Jesus washing the apostles feet.
The story really touched me because I work in a part of town that has a large homeless population and so I have had over the last eight years that I've been assigned here a lot of interaction with homeless people. I've given it a lot of thought over the last week and I don't think I would have done what PO DiPrimo did. To be totally honest with you---I don't think I would have.
This is something that has always bothered me in that I don't think that I see homeless people the way that Jesus would be happy with. I don't think that I would have been moved to such compassion to go buy a pair of boots for the man. The scariest Bible verse to me is when Jesus said, "whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me" because I'm afraid that I don't have enough compassion or empathy for the homeless people that I do come into contact with.
I think one of the reasons is because of the types of interactions that I have. The normal interactions I have with the homeless are where they are their own worst enemies. Ambulance calls where someone is falling down drunk is prevalent, followed by car breaks, assaults to simply waking them up and moving them because they are sleeping someplace they are not welcome. Often times, the reason they aren't welcome is because of incidents of leaving trash, defecating or thefts.
So it's difficult to have too much compassion for people when the interactions you have are negative. I will always treat them with respect like I treat everyone with respect. But it's difficult for me to have empathy for men standing on the stoplight with cardboard signs asking for money when I assume that they are going to use the money for drugs.
I wish I saw Jesus in the homeless because I fully realize that many of the homeless are there due to mental illness or drug addictions. But it's difficult when you know that many of the homeless are there because they choose to be. It's difficult when you know there are resources for them to get off the street that they do not use. It is their lifestyle.
This is a difficult subject to write about because I know what Christ is telling me. I know that I should love as He loves. But there are life experiences holding me back. A self protection that prevents me from seeing all of the homeless as innocent victims. I suppose I could work on this by volunteering to help the homeless--and I have enjoyed helping with St. James Place. It's a difficult balance---loving without being too naive. How do you completely love while not completely trusting? What are your thoughts?