by J. L. Cook
I woke up early this morning with God on my mind. I had various little spiritual thoughts flitting around my mind, like the birds flitting around the trees just outside my window. After awhile, my thoughts came to the subject of bums and homeless people, and how I should treat them.
It seems easy to care about most unfortunate people in the world, but bums seem different to me. They are not really a part of this modern world of mine. They seem to live in a totally alien world of their own. And when our paths cross, I feel totally at a loss to do anything at all. So I usually pass on by, trying not to look at them, especially not face to face. I want to help them, but how can I? They don’t seem to want to better themselves. They just wander about the streets, barely managing to exist. Yet, they are not a part of society at all.
Jesus asked me, “Have you ever read in the scriptures where I instructed my followers to love their neighbor?” I promptly retorted that these people were not my neighbors,. “Why, I even had to go out of my way, just to give them a dollar! They really aren’t my neighbors, are they, Jesus?”
Jesus kind of smiled at me, and His eyes sort of twinkled. Then He began to tell me the story of the good Samaritan. But He updated it. He told it as if it had happened right here in my town, during my life time. So I listened. And I wrote down the words to this story…
Once there was a certain business man who worked in downtown Nashville. Each day, on his lunch hour, he would walk a few blocks up the street, to eat at a nice restaurant. One day, as he was passing a certain alley way, someone grabbed him by the arm, and dragged him into the alley. Two men began to beat this business man without mercy. They took his money. They took off all of his clothes. They threw him into a dumpster. They left him to die. The business man was bleeding badly. He struggled to get out, but he could not. All he managed to do was wallow around in the stinking filth, until he sunk to the bottom. Then, he laid his head down, and passed out.
Now this dumpster was not far from the street. Several people who passed by heard moans coming from this dumpster. Their day was already planned out to the last detail. They had no time for such nonsense as helping some bum who had fallen into a dumpster. And so, not just one, but many people passed on by, and ignored the noise. Most of these people were very religious. They attended church every week. They tithed their money, so the church could help the poor and less fortunate.
Finally, an old bum came stumbling down the alley. He was looking in all the dumpsters, hoping to find some discarded food. He heard the moans, too. And since he had nothing else to do, he decided to investigate. This was an adventure for him, a welcome break in his day. After all, he didn’t often hear a dumpster moaning! He carefully lifted the lid, being ready to run at the first sign of danger. All he saw was a naked man with trash and filthy scum stuck to his body. He kind of snickered and said, “Fella, you know you can’t live in dumpsters, don’t ya?… But all he heard in reply was more moaning. Finally, the bum realized the man wasn’t drunk, just badly hurt. So with very great difficulty, he dragged the man out of the dumpster. He slapped the man on the face a few times, but the man wouldn’t wake up, he only moaned.
The bum thought to himself, “This is all I need, more problems in my life, one more thing to deal with.” He knew if he left the man here, he would probably die. So he grabbed the man by the arms, and dragged him to the street. He waved at a cab, and as he was putting the man in, the driver started yelling at him, saying, “What am I supposed to do with him?” The bum replied, “Take him to the nearest hospital!” But the cabbie demanded, “I have to get paid, nobody rides for free!” The bum reached into his pocket and pulled out all of his money. Two dollars and some change, that was all he had after standing at the road all day long, holding his little sign. He had been looking forward to a nice evening, maybe some food, maybe some beer. He offered the money to the cabbie, saying, “Is this enough?” The cabbie looked at it, and his heart softened a little, and he said, “Yes, that is enough.” And off the cab went to the nearest hospital.
Then Jesus looked at me and asked, “Of all the people who passed by, which one of them turned out to be this man’s neighbor?” With tears streaming down my cheeks, I could barely get out the words, “The bum. The bum proved to be this man’s neighbor.” Then Jesus very gently said, “Go, and do likewise.”
However, this story was not over. Jesus began to tell me what else happened, after these events. He told me to listen carefully, and write it all down…
Now, after all of this, the bum was very tired. This was more physical work than he had done in years. He had no money for supper, but he was too tired to care. So he just sat down and put his head in his lap, to rest. After a while, he felt someone nudging him awake. Looking up, he saw a well dressed business man, looking down at him.
He thought the man was going to yell at him, because he had a very serious look on his face. But the man just blurted out some words, saying, “God told me to cross over the street, and give you twenty dollars.” Well! Now the bum was wide awake. Money always brought a little energy to his old body. He raised his eyes to look at this man. He realized that he had often seen him walking by, with a friend. Neither man had ever given him anything before, except maybe a scornful look, as they passed on by. The man was holding out a twenty dollar bill. The bum quickly took it. His heart leaped for joy! Then, for some reason, he asked, “Where’s your friend?” The man said, “I don’t know. I am looking for him. Have you seen Him?” The bum said, “I don’t know, maybe. I think a cab took him to the hospital. He was all beat up, real bad.” Then the man ran off in search of his friend. The bum felt a strange feeling come over himself, as he watched the man hurry off. It had been a long time since he had done anything he could be proud of. Somehow, he felt a little better, deep inside. Then he got up, and went to have the best supper he had had for years.
The business man finally found his friend at a nearby hospital. His friend was in a coma. They were calling him John Doe because he had no ID. The man quickly told them his friend’s real identity. Then he called the man’s wife, and asked her to come quickly. Soon, the lobby was filled with people. The man’s wife and children were there. His boss and several co-workers were there. His pastor and several friends from his church were there. They all hoped the man would live. They prayed and prayed for him. Then, after three days, the man suddenly woke up, and opened his eyes! Everybody rejoiced and praised God, even the doctors and nurses!
After the man felt a little better, they asked him what had happened. He told them about being beat up, and thrown into a dumpster. He remembered that one man had a baseball bat. Another man had a piece of steel. And they laughed, as they beat him. Then, he barely remembered someone pulling him out of the dumpster. He couldn’t see who it was. But the person smelled terrible, like one of those detestable bums. Whoever it was, dragged him down the alley, and put him in a cab. That’s all he remembered.
Then his business friend told the story of how God had led him to give twenty dollars to the old bum on the corner. And the old bum told him that his friend was in the hospital. He said, “That’s how I found you.” Tears began running down the sick man’s face. He lifted up his eyes, saying, “Oh Lord, if only I had as much love for others, as this bum had for me!” Everyone in the room was touched, and they all cried together.
After many days in the hospital, the man finally became well. Soon he was able to return to work. God put it on his heart to find this old bum, and thank him for saving his life. So every day after work, he looked for this bum. But he did not find him for many days. Finally, one day he saw the bum standing beside the road, holding out his sign. A feeling of great joy and appreciation came over the man as he approached the bum. He asked the bum, ”Do you remember me?” The bum answered, “I don’t know, maybe.” So the man reminded him, “You pulled me out of a dumpster and put me in a cab. You saved my life!” The bum replied, “Yeah, so what?” The man explained, “I want to thank you. Would you let me buy you some supper?” The old bum thought for a moment, and then said, “OK” And off they went!
The man did not take him to just any restaurant. No, he took him to the best restaurant in the whole town. The hostess didn’t want to let the bum in, because of his offensive odor. But after the business man took her aside, and spoke to her for a minute, she reluctantly seated them at a table. They ate a very good meal. Slowly they began to feel at ease with each other. They began talking as if they were old friends. Soon, the bum opened up his heart, and told the man how he came to live on the streets. The man listened to every word, and was deeply touched in his heart, that anyone should have to live like this. He asked the bum if there was anything he could do for him. But the bum just said, “No.” The man was very determined to do something for this bum. And so, after much pleading, he convinced the bum to come home with him.
He introduced this bum to his wife and his children. They learned that his name was John. They all decided, in their hearts, to treat this bum with great respect, as if he was the Mayor or the President. They led him to the master bedroom, which also had a very large bathroom. They told him to take a long bath, and sleep in the master bedroom, which he did. When John awoke the next morning, he found brand new clothes at the foot of the bed, and a note saying he should wear them. After he dressed, he came out of the bedroom. Everyone was saying, “Good morning, John! Did you sleep well?” Then they led him to the head of the table, and served him the best breakfast he had ever had. John ate the breakfast, but he felt kind of funny since everyone was looking at him, and being so nice. Suddenly John said, “Please take me home, now. I want to go back to my corner.” The man drove John downtown, to the corner where He often stayed. He gave John forty dollars, and thanked him again for saving his life. Then he asked John if he could come and see him once in a while. John said, “Yeah, that would be OK, if you won’t make such a big deal about it. Just treat me like a normal person, that’s all I want.”
And so for weeks and weeks after that, the man would come and find John, where ever he was, and take him to supper. They became good friends, and both looked forward to these times together. One day John asked, “Why do you care about me?” The man replied, “ God is trying to teach me how to love my neighbor. Would you like to come to church with me sometime. Perhaps we can learn together?” John answered, “Well, maybe just once, to see what it’s like, if you’ll give me a ride.”
And so it was that John came to church with his friend. Everyone there welcomed him gladly, and made a big fuss over him. It made him feel funny deep inside, like some feeling from a very long time ago. The preacher was really filled with the Spirit that day. He preached the very best sermon of his entire life. The words touched John’s heart very deeply. He knew he had to have Jesus in his life. So, at the invitation, he jumped right up. With tears running down his face, and his friend right beside him, he came forward. John spoke to the entire congregation. He told them that he wanted to live the rest of his life for Jesus. So they took him, and baptized him that very moment. The whole church praised God. And they celebrated all through the rest of the day. They made John feel special. They made him feel wanted. They made him feel loved by them and by God.
After that, someone would give John a ride to church every week. Sometimes, they would find him the night before, and give him a bath. They would wash his clothes, and feed him, too. John quickly grew in love for God and for people. And that love began to change him. You could see it in his eyes and face. You could hear it in his voice. But John was still a bum. He wasn’t ready to leave the streets, even though people kept begging him. The street life was all he had known for many years. It had become his home. He really didn’t mind it at all.
So John continued living on the streets the same as before, except for one big difference. He walked around praising God loudly, every where he went. All his homeless friends thought he had gone crazy. John explained to them, “Yes, I have gone crazy, crazy for God. My heart has been broken by the love of Jesus. Now I am finally happy.” John spoke many other words to them concerning this man, Jesus. Many of his friends were persuaded to believe. And the church gladly accepted all who John brought to them. John went from alley to alley preaching good news to all who would listen. But some people told him to go away, and they threw trash at him, and even spit on him. After all, what did he know? He was just a bum like them. “Yes”, he said, “I am just a bum. But I am God’s bum. He loves me very much and I love Him. I hope someday you will feel His love inside you, too.”
Over time, many bums came to know Jesus because of John. Even today, you can see them standing on the side of the road, with their little signs. But now, these bums have big smiles on their faces. And all their signs say, “Jesus loves you very much.” And passersby gladly give money to these bums, even more than ever before. The town’s people regularly take these bums home with them. They feed them, and bathe them, and wash their clothes. They treat them like princes, even if it is just for one day, every once in a while.
Soon there were all kinds of homeless people praising God in the alleys downtown. God Himself rejoiced greatly for them and welcomed them gladly into His heart. After a while, some of these homeless people were re-united with their families. Some were able to go back to work and become a part of society. But not John. No, John stayed on the streets as a bum for God. This is who he was. He had no desire to be anything else. So he remained on the streets. And he was very happy, in the Lord. He was God’s bum, and he was glad to be that. He had the best father in the whole world, and the best family, too. What else could a man ask for? John never worried about food or clothes or where he would sleep. He just kept looking at Jesus, and all his needs were supplied.
John lived for many more years, staying on the streets. He constantly praised God, and offered love to anyone he met. Everyone in the whole town came to know him, and love him. When John finally died, a great many people came to his funeral. The whole cemetery was completely filled. John was buried in the finest grave. The town’s people gave him a nice headstone. It read, “ Here lays John, a bum for God”. They gave him a forty gun salute. All the people cried for him. They all praised God for him. They were filled with great sorrow and great joy, both at the same time.
When Jesus finished telling me this story, He asked me, “Do you understand now, the power of loving your neighbor? Do you understand that love brings eternal life?”
At this point I was crying my eyes out, but I managed to say, ”Yes, Lord, now I understand. But Lord, how can I accomplish this work? It may be beyond my ability.”
Then Jesus replied, “Yes, it will be very hard. You will have to take risks. You will risk having your love rejected. You will risk having your heart broken. You may even risk your own life. But remember, I will always be with you. Can you do that for Me?”
I said, “Lord, I will try. But Lord, what if I find my love wasted on someone who will never change? Will that be wrong?”
Jesus answered, “It is never wrong to give love away, not even if it is wasted. In fact, I want you to pretend that you are a wealthy man, rich in love. I want you to go about giving away your love. Just throw it around like you’re getting rid of a large fortune. Give it to anyone and everyone you meet. Don’t even try to determine if they deserve it. That would only be a distraction from your work. This is how I want you to live. This is what life is all about. This is what life has always been about, from the beginning of time. Will you do that for me?”
And I promised, “Yes Lord, I will do your will.”