Reflection for Good Friday

One of the meanings of Good Friday is that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, has plunged the depths of human suffering. He picked up the cup of agony and drank every last drop.

Every year in San Diego, on Good Friday, a group of Christians walks through downtown, reenacting the stations of the cross and reflecting on a different type of human suffering at each stop. This year they made a stop at our church, First Presbyterian, for the third station of the cross: when Jesus falls the first time. Here is the reflection I gave on homelessness in connection with that moment in Jesus’ journey to the cross.

Good Friday Walk with the Suffering
Jesus Falls the First Time – Homelessness

The suffering of homelessness is the suffering of alienation, social stigma, loneliness, estrangement from family, and fear of people. It’s being a victim of violence, sexual violence, and verbal abuse. It’s being unable to shake the feeling of futility that things will never change. It’s aches and pains, addictive cravings, psychological stress, hunger, and persistent insomnia. It’s being wet and shivering all night long. It’s constant, unrelenting vigilance about the safety of your belongings and your own body. It’s mind-numbing boredom. It’s PTSD, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and substance abuse disorder, all at the same time, and maybe with some diabetes, heart disease, Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS thrown in. It’s falling down and feeling like you can’t get up.

Homeless people are extremely diverse. I’ve met pastors, rabbis, scholars, business owners, and engineers who have ended up on the streets. I’ve also met men who have been gang members since childhood, and women who have been sold for sex for just as long. They all share at least one thing: the belief that their homelessness means they’re too messed up, too dysfunctional, and too broken for “society” to want them.

On Good Friday we praise God because, miracle of miracles, we—the human race—are not too messed up, dysfunctional, or broken for him to want us. In fact, he wants us so much that he suffered our dysfunction and brokenness in his own body, in order to give us his health and wholeness in return.

When we show love to the homeless, we display the love of God which searches the streets and alleys for the poor, the maimed, the crippled, and the blind, and compels them to come into his great feast (Luke 14:21-23). As lovers of God, may we humbly kneel next to those who have fallen down and gently encourage them to stand up again.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, we bring before you the suffering of the homeless. Give us the wisdom, patience, and compassion to extend kindness and friendship to the many homeless folks around us. Give guidance to our civic leaders as they face the complex and systemic issues that drive homelessness in our city. Give guidance to our churches as they care for the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbors on the streets. We pray for justice, hope, restored relationships, healed bodies and minds. We thank you for your suffering and for your amazing love for us. Amen

Looking for Purpose

B.B. is a new face at the Ladle. I first noticed him with suspicion, since I frequently saw him hanging around a woman whom I know to be particularly susceptible to manipulation and abuse. Soon, however, he approached me on behalf of that woman and shared his concerns about her safety on the streets. He wondered if there was anything we could do for her, or if he could somehow help. Many abusers claim to have noble, “protective” motives, but he was clearly not playing that game. He was genuinely worried about her. Since then he has helped remind this woman to take her diabetes medication every day, a feat which I’ve been struggling to accomplish for months.

Eventually he shared his own story with us.

He lived his whole life in Illinois. He had a desk job and saved for retirement. He had a wife and a daughter who is going to grad school soon. Then…somehow he got entangled in a financial scam which wiped out his $150K of saved retirement money and stressed his marriage to the point of divorce. Burdened with defeat, depression, and a feeling of meaninglessness, he gave up. This year he became homeless for the first time in his life at age 53, and moved to San Diego for the weather. He doesn’t drink or do drugs and has no mental health issues. He could easily blend in at my workplace, church, or family gathering. He’s just a man who hit the point of despair, with no safety net to catch him, and he hasn’t yet re-emerged.

Today, B.B. came by the church to tell me about another vulnerable woman on the streets whose safety is worrying him. He is trying to keep an eye on her as well as the other woman with diabetes. I wonder if he’s looking for a sense of purpose in all this.

Like all of us, B.B. needs his defeated imagination reawakened by the gospel of Christ, the miracle of resurrection, the reality of eternal life. He needs to know his value in God’s sight. He needs to reckon with his brokenness and confess it. He needs to be reassured by the mercy of God.

The man needs Jesus. And some friends!