Do you ever wonder why God doesn't strike you dead on a daily basis?
I had just finished preaching a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan and had just heard an awe-inspiring testimony from Alison Praisewater, who talked about her call to ministry and her learning to be a good neighbor to the orphan children in Haiti. Coffee hour was winding down, and two men were waiting to speak to me. One of them looked very sunburned, wasn't feeling well, and wanted a night in a hotel. The other one needed money to pay rent. I know both men. I have helped them multiple times in the past. I know that I can't provide what they really need. One of them is always angry and needs mental health care and stable housing. The other is sweet but needs a green card and a job. Because I had already done several nights in hotels and had helped to pay for rent several times, I felt that I had to turn both of them down. I prayed with them and gave them each a Safeway gift card and sent them on their way. But I felt terrible about it all day.
The questions haunt me: What would a good neighbor do? What would a good society do? There has to be an answer for people who need help but aren't yet ready to admit it or accept it. How will they ever be ready if they have to spend all their energy just trying to survive a few more hours on the street? There needs to be a place for people to go where they won't be scared to sleep and won't be kicked out because they can't yet comply with the rules. There needs to be a way to be a neighbor to them, without making things worse for them. There must be something we can do besides preach at or pray for them. Passing by on the other side, as in Jesus' story, is not an option. But I have already done the Samaritan thing and here they are, back again.
The Letter of James says, "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead." [2:15-16]
A prayer and a Safeway card. What is the good of that?