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The Unclean

There is a man who panhandles in front of my home. “Jim” can be found working the South Street traffic several times a day. When I ask him, “Jim, how’s your day been?” his response is measured by the generosity of the passers-by. A “good day” means he has collected enough money for a couple of fast food meals. We do not give Jim money; we do provide a cup of coffee each morning he is present and occasionally some food. He knows we are safe space. He has thanked my wife and me for talking to him, treating him like a person, not ignoring him.

Weather extremes – severe heat and cold – seem to take the greatest toll on Jim. Under such an extreme he once agreed to allow me to contact on his behalf Central Intake for the city’s homeless services. I made the phone call. I don’t know who was more cynical and distrusting of the other, Jim or the intake worker. In the end, Jim declined to go and the worker declined to concede that the person he was supposed to be helping would be anything less than manipulative and deceitful. For each person, their prior experiences drove their assumptions about the other.

As Christians we have a great deal of difficulty trusting Jesus. We resist relinquishing control of our lives to God. And we know better. We know from our experience the value of doing so, we know and understand the good that comes from this. And yet we are reluctant to concede control.

www.ianpollock.co.uk

Leper Cured - copyright Ian Pollock

So why would we expect that people who have no job, no source of income, no healthcare, no place to call home – why would we expect them to trust and relinquish the little bit of control over their lives to a “system” that contributed to their current state of life? Our failure as a society to recognize the value of human life and treat other people with dignity, as Jesus did with the leper in Mark 1:40-45, contributes to the isolation and oppression. It is a form of rejection that sustains an “us and them” mentality.

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From time to time I find myself feeling as though Jim takes advantage of us, that he is not doing “his part” to improve his circumstances. I become resentful. Cynical. Recorded in John 13:34, Jesus tells his followers to “love one another as I have loved you.” That is, without conditions, stipulations, expectations; accepting them and their plight, just as they are. Just as I am.

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