Late on the afternoon of Saturday, May 5, I was sitting at a table in Trinity Hall at our church having dinner.
Our guests, homeless families from CARITAS (Congregations Around Richmond To Assure Shelter), had finished eating. Parents and their children were getting acclimated to a new environment.
These families are with us for two weeks. A commercial bus drops them off every afternoon and returns to pick them up every morning. At the end of the two weeks, these families will regroup and go to another church. Sometimes during that time frame, a family will have the good fortune to find housing. Securing that stability in their lives is an important step.
Sitting to my left is the overnight shelter supervisor. The rest of the table is filled out with friends from church.
I asked the supervisor a few questions about his work. His answers were transparent and reflected his 17 years of working CARITAS.
During that time, he had seen first hand the challenges experienced by the homeless. Not much that he hadn’t seen. From the pre-existing health condition that caused a person to pass away during the night to the expectant mother who was ready to give birth.
One of my friends at the table who has always been a part of our church team in working CARITAS shared a story.
Last year, there was a young lady in the program who was expecting. She was 17 years old. Her delivery moment arrived at our church. Fortunately for my friend, the expectant mother made it to the hospital in time.
The next day, my friend went to visit her at the hospital. He was surprised to find the young mother alone in her room. My friend asked about her parents. The young lady responded that her parents had disowned her. When he asked about the child’s father, her response was she didn’t expect to see him either.
At this point, my friend said to himself—“it’s not supposed to be this way.”
I wonder why in the Bible, Jesus states in Matthew 26:11: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”
Does he say this to challenge us?
Look folks, the poor are always going to be with you, so I need you to work to figure out ways to eliminate all of those issues the poor are facing. And by the way, I’m not always going to be around to remind you of this obligation, so get busy.
CARITAS has been around since 1987 working to help the homeless. Here we are 31 years later, and while I’m sure CARITAS makes progress each year, we still have the challenges the poor face with us no matter where we look in our city, state, country, and world.
Recently, I watched the PBS series Super Skyscrapers. This show focused on the construction of one skyscraper in New York City. The title of the episode was The Billionaire Building.
Someone paid $90 million for the penthouse on the top floor that looks out over Central Park.
No luxury was spared anywhere in the building.
Bathrooms were constructed of imported Italian marble. Kitchens were custom made by hand in England by master craftsmen. The building even has it own state of the art window washing apparatus.
The show was fascinating from the perspective that we have the capacity to build such a skyscraper. But, I also found the show extremely sobering. We can build the most luxurious skyscraper in the world, but we can’t solve the daily challenges faced by the poor.
Why is this? Why can’t the talent and skills used to plan and build the skyscraper be applied to solve homeless problems around the world?
Maybe, the answer is that we silently affirm Jesus’ words: “You will always have the poor with you.”
All of those nonprofits and government agencies can handle the poor. Why should I worry and push myself to become involved?
Maybe because deep in my heart, I think Jesus made that statement as a challenge.
My friend’s comment about the deserted young mother: “It’s not supposed to be that way,” caused me to reflect further.
If we really wanted to solve the problems of the poor, I want to believe we could.
But, I don’t think we see this as an urgent priority.
After all, the poor have always been with us.
The lyrics to Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s first hit record, “The Way It Is” have always intrigued me. The four lines from the chorus make me pause:
That’s just the way it is.
Some things will never change.
That’s just the way it is.
Ah, but don’t you believe them.
If Jesus was still walking around today, he would affirm that last line.
He wants us to realize, “It’s not supposed to be that way.”