A few years ago when I was in college, a group of young servants invited me to join them one Sunday night to serve the homeless in Jersey City. There was a popular spot where many homeless people gathered near the path train station, and it happened to be walking distance from a local Coptic church. I decided to join the zealous servants that night, and I'm so glad I did. We started out with praying in the church, then walked over to the city square. We handed out slices of pizza to the homeless, chatted with them, and shared the word of God with them. At the end of the service the verses in Matthew 25 rung so loudly in my ears. I actually remember that moment vividly. I was standing at the corner of the street waiting for the light to turn red so I could cross, and I thought to myself, “wow, I think I got to meet Christ today in the most unexpected way,” and that inner joy made me smile.
These are the words of the Gospel that were utterly clear that day:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
(Matthew 25: 34-40)
It wasn’t just about the pizza, there are numerous shelters and soup kitchens that offer free food. It probably wasn’t even about hearing a Gospel message, I’m not sure how our preaching was really received by them. It was about making them feel seen and heard! Our actions spoke louder than any of our words.
These small acts of kindness go such a long way. Whether it's providing food, drink, shelter, clothes, a hospital visit, or prison visit, it's all about recognizing those who need care and going out of our comfort zone to meet their needs. It's the most selfless thing we as humans can do: to put another person’s needs before our own.
St. John Chrysostom says, “The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.” Our acts of kindness are not just mere acts, if they are done with the right intention, they become foundational steps towards reaching the kingdom. Fr. John Boutros does an amazing job explaining this concept in this podcast episode, “God, Where Can We Find You in the Inner City?” on the Reintroduction Podcast. I also highly recommend reading St. John Chrysostom’s book "On Wealth and Poverty."
How many times have we seen a homeless person in the street and walked right past them? How many times do we make excuses as to why we can’t give them a donation, whether it's monetary or not? How many times do we look the other way to avoid making eye contact, scared we’ll feel guilty if we look into their eyes and really see them?
Guys, I have a confession to make. I recently spent two years working in downtown Manhattan. New York City has tens of thousands of homeless people, so I saw at least one everyday during my commute, and I did nothing about it. I came up with lame excuses as to why I couldn't help or serve them. I said there were too many homeless people, and felt overwhelmed. I said I didn’t have time, and I would be late for work. Honestly, no excuse was valid. At that time, I looked back at the three years I spent gladly serving the homeless in college, and felt like I was not fulfilling my Christian responsibility.
God did not expect me to solve the homelessness crisis in my cities. God did not ask me to save all the homeless people I encountered. He simply asks me, and all of us, to let our light shine, and one way of doing that is to serve His children.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
For those two years I definitely placed my lamp under a basket when it came to serving the homeless. But it's never too late to start serving, for me or you.
Don’t do it for the pat on the back, the social media posts and likes, or even the thank you’s you’ll receive. Do it to meet Him!
During this quarantine while I'm safe at home, I wonder where they are. With no crowds in the streets, I wonder if anyone is looking after them. I wonder if they’re safe and healthy. I wonder if they’re being seen and heard. I wonder if they are receiving the proper and dignifying treatment every human deserves.
Are you now wondering the same thing?
Well, I think we should do something about it. I think we should go out and serve them to ultimately serve and meet Him.