As Max and I sheltered from the rain in my car, tears rolled down our faces. Max, a resident at our night shelter, spoke quietly between sobs:
“How can I believe in a God who let me be homeless on my 16th birthday? How can I believe in a God who let me fall in love with a girl who’d have a baby with me and then leave me? How can I believe in a God who let me struggle with a heroin addiction despite my best attempts to get free?”
We sat, crying, for about an hour that November morning. There wasn’t much talking. Max wasn’t looking for a theological debate. My heart was broken and I knew then – more than ever – that God’s heart was broken too.
Remember the poor
For years I’d been walking past homeless people. The more I did it, the easier it became. It felt easy to forget the guy who was begging as I passed him on the street. I wondered how many “Maxes” I’d walked past, how many “Maxes” I’d averted my eyes from as they asked me for help.
Paul writes to the Galatians that he is eager for them to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). I’ve always wondered why Paul says “remember” rather than “be called to” or “be compelled to give money to.” Now I know that Paul said “remember” because the “poor” are so easy to forget.
I’d been forgetting the poor my whole life; it just seemed to be how I was wired. It’s ingrained in my culture. But, in the car that morning, I remembered the poor because he had become my friend. My heart was broken.
Jesus loves the poor
God never forgets the poor. The Bible is full of promises for the poor and for those who remember them. Jesus always had time to stop for the poor and needy. Immediately after the grief-filled moment of hearing about John the Baptist’s death in Matthew 14, He had compassion on the hungry and fed 5000 men. When He was on His way to raise Lazarus from the dead, He had time to heal a bleeding lady and show an outcast woman that she was beautiful.
Jesus stopped because He loves the poor. His heart breaks for every Max we’ve trained ourselves to walk past. Loving the poor is not a calling for a select few. It’s the calling of the whole church and it will look different for each of us.
The poor aren’t just those who sleep rough. It’s the neighbour whom no one ever seems to visit, the work colleague who always sits alone at lunch or the old school friend who’s going through a divorce with the details all over Facebook. The poor is the person who is socially awkward and takes effort and energy to befriend. Whoever they are, it breaks God’s heart when we walk by. We can’t walk by any more.
Max’s happy ending
Max moved through our homeless services and moved away. Months later I received this email from him:
“I’m not sure where to go or what to do from here. You probably won’t believe this, but I’ve put my life in God’s hands and good news! Miraculous things have started happening. I’m excited to see what God will do with my life in the future.”
Max spent last Christmas reunited with his daughter. To this day, he is free from drugs and pursuing a new life. God didn’t walk past Max. God didn’t avert his eyes and He never forgot him.