I was sitting in our community gathering this morning, having just finished a wonderful breakfast of toast, eggs, bacon and mushrooms, and as we do each Sunday we began to discuss things that may have had a spiritual impact on our lives the previous week. A young man began to relate to the group an encounter he had with a wino, and the security staff at a night club.
The wino is a well known homeless man in the Melbourne CBD. He has been fall down drunk for most of the time for the last ten or twenty years. He often smells bad, gets in fights, and is always very drunk. My friend from church know him from a few of the social services in town. My friend who we can call Norm, said hello, and a conversation began. One of the bouncers from the club they just happened to be standing in front of walked up, addressed the wino by name, and told him he wasn’t allowed to drink around there anymore. Norm’s friend began to protest and ask why and apparently mr. wino had caused some problems and tried to assault one of the security staff last week.
So Norm lead mr. wino down a few meters till they were not in front of the venue any longer, and along with his friend, and Norm’s girlfriend, continued their conversation. The bouncer came over and started telling them to get the hell out of there, and Norm and his friend started to arch up. Things started to get heated, and it looked like there were going to be blows thrown. Norm’s girlfriend, as girlfriends often do, cooled things down and got the boys to take mr. wino down the street.
As they were walking down the street the wino said, “Jesus used to party, we’re just having a party just like Jesus” And apparently having been stood up for, cared for, and also being drunk, made mr. wino very emotional, and he asked the guys if they could pray. And so Norm, his girlfriend, another friend and mr wino stood praying in the street. The security and everyone else on the street witnessed three young, apparently normal people group hugging a smelly drunk who had shit his pants. Norm realized something about the kingdom of God there.
Jesus tells this story: The Sheep and the Goats 31″When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41″Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44″They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45″He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46″Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Now, I am not naive (unless you think all Christians are) I understand that this is a very complex issue. Here is a guy that is socially inappropriate, sometimes dangerous, and will scare off customers. The owner of the establishment can be very clearly concerned about this man’s presence. He also basically caused his own state, he did not suffer some horrible tragedy, but drank himself into addiction, and homelessness. Many in Western society would call people like mr wino, the undeserving poor. Most Americans or Aussies actually have some compassion for people that have fallen through the cracks in the system and need some help, but guys like mr wino, deserve to be where they are, because they caused it. Believe me I understand these things, and thoughts. Alain de Botton points out in status anxiety that we now live in what can be called a meritocracy. You have what you have, or don’t have what you don’t have because of your merit. For the most part if you are poor it is because you are too lazy, too stupid, or too busy blaming others to really take control of your life. Which makes being in these situations even more shameful than in the past.
But we must remember in Jesus time, and in His audiences culture, they had a similar idea. Only instead of a meritocracy, they had a moralocracy. They believe that you got what you deserved but based on your standing with God, and your righteousness. To this audience, the poor were not poor because they were lazy, they were poor because God did not love them as they were obviously sinners. At one point Jesus’ own disciples ask him, why is this man blind, is it because he sinned or his parents sinned?
My point is simple, Jesus words were just as radical in his day as they would seem here. Jesus is saying that The Son of Man, the Messiah, is each one of these people. Is in fact mr. wino. Not the deserving poor, not the noble poor, not the romanticized movie version of the honest hard working poor that had just fallen on hard times, but the cursed of God, sinner, degenerate deserves his or her fate, poor, and imprisoned.
Jesus seems to often explain that it is easy to love the lovable, but we need to love even our enemies. How can we love those that are so far from our natural love? Perhaps it is seeing the almost gone, slowly flickering image of humanity (the echo of God’s image) deep in the heart of each and every person, and seeing in that almost quenched flame, the actual fullness of the divine. Norm, was experiencing God’s kingdom come, and so was mr. wino! What will you experience over the next few weeks?