Lessons from the Homeless

Every afternoon, an old woman parked her walker beside the bench in front of City Hall. She would sit down heavily in the shade of the large chestnut tree, huffing and puffing. She wore the same shapeless, black dress each day. It was tattered and hung loosely, despite her large frame. For hours, she would watch people walk by. She rarely begged. Most of the time, she would simply say, “Have a good day.”

I lived in a tiny bachelor apartment in the downtown core. The woman was directly on my route home from work. I could always smell her before I could see her. No matter which direction the wind was blowing, her acrid scent stung my eyes and throat. At first, I held my breath and walked on by as if she didn’t exist. After all, she was old and stinky and I had better things to do with my time. I didn’t think she had anything of worth to offer.

But then I heard that still small voice inside say, “Give her some food.”

I didn’t have much. I was working my way through university. Some days, there was no money to feed myself, let alone a random stranger.

And yet, the voice persisted. “Give her some food.”

At first, it was just an apple. Then it became some fruit, a peanut butter sandwich, and a bottle of water or can of cola in a brown paper bag.

One day, another homeless man joined the old woman. His bloodshot eyes peered out above a matted beard that hid most of his face. He didn’t ask me for anything, but I began to pack an extra paper bag anyway.

A few days later, yet another homeless man had joined. Word was spreading. Dirty and ragged, the little group waited eagerly in front of City Hall for their bags of food. It took all my strength to not throw up from the stench of unwashed bodies.

And then that still small voice spoke again. “In My eyes, there is no difference between you and these people. Even the good things you do, when done out of a wrong heart, are like filth to Me. And yet, I see you. I see you and I love you.”

Isaiah 64:6 says that our righteous deeds are like dirty rags to the Lord. The acrid stench of a wrong heart stings His eyes. It makes Him gag. Without Him, we have nothing of any worth to offer.

But He loves us. He loves us so much, that He is not willing to leave us drowning in our sin. So He took it upon Himself. All of it. Though we deserved to die, He died for us so we could be free. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, His love is big enough to cover it. There is hope for you. There is forgiveness. Joy. Freedom.

The bench in front of City Hall usually sits empty these days. I haven’t spotted the old homeless woman in years, although I’ve looked. She may no longer be alive. Or she may have moved on to another city. But I will never forget her or the lesson she taught me—that wherever you are in life, no matter how far gone you think you are, God sees you. He sees you and He loves you.

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