You might find that statement askew.
Don’t look at me; I’m only writing how the average passerby views the pair. You notice the dog’s adorability first, then you see the person next to him. I’ve had this discussion with friends over coffee, while sitting in a corner shop, or while walking through tourist towns or seedy suburbs. I know the initial thoughts and guarded sentiments directed towards these city-dwelling duos, as they were once my own.
Our typical reaction generally involves something along the lines of, “how is this man able to have and care for a dog?” We think to ourselves that he certainly must have greater needs, other matters that need attending. How can he afford this? Some think he is obviously not struggling financially, despite his frail appearance, rough clothing, and cardboard cry for help. “He has a dog for goodness’ sake!” You might think to yourself that his mild-mannered mutt has a coat nicer than your own furry friend. How can that be? You walk briskly, by him and his four-legged gimmick, trying to hide your second glance. It’s the same scenario with the bum showering bread crumbs for pigeons in the park.
If you are one of the few who cares to reason and consider compassion, perhaps you wonder how he came to call the sidewalk his home. Maybe you think of personal experiences where a different outcome could have turned your forecast for the worse. You contemplate offering a few dollars or handing him your lunch. Maybe you’d rather not give bill or coin, but you’re not running late for your appointment, so you get him some food and drink from the convenience store. You could pray. You could act and pray. You could tell him you will pray, or you could hand him something and pray in the moment. Your choice.
To learn more of my heart on the matter, I encourage you to check out a book by Mike Yankoski: https://www.amazon.com/Under-Overpass-Journey-Streets-America/dp/1590524020. Anyways, the point of this writing is not to motivate you to give your money or your lunchbox to a stranger on the street (though I pray it does); after all, he may be an addict, who smells like the animal he calls friend.
I want you to give your life. I want you to give him the time of day. I want you to consider consideration. I want you to know he has a story, and he may like to speak with you. He might like to hear your story. He may have forgotten how to respond, how to care, how to act appropriately; you don’t know when his last conversation took place. My priority is to let you know that the rugged, bearded man with matted hair, wearing clothes you would never think to wear, sitting next to the dog on the sidewalk: he’s a human. Let that sink in.
You and him have a few things in common. He was born and you were born. You each have a concept of family and friendship. You have both attended schools of learning, though the institutions and experiences may differ significantly. You both need food and water. You both crave relationship. You both wear clothing. You both prefer not to be ridiculed or looked down on. You have both been mistreated, and you both have mistreated. You both have a past, and potential for a future. You are both loved by God, displayed fully in Jesus.
We all have physical needs, needs for belonging and connecting within society, and safety needs. We all desire to be respected. We are created to exist in community. In fact, I’ve met people who were living on the streets and turned down the offer of an apartment. Why? Because they valued the community they had found; they didn’t want to risk losing those relationships. They didn’t want to abandon the others. Some of those ties that bind are greater than I experience with my handful of close friends.
I’ve met people living on the streets who are so lonely, not having established a position in a community. Some lack the developed speaking skills or they have found their only sense of security, sense of value and belonging, sense of friendship and compassion…in the abandoned dog they found. I’ve met people who haven’t had a discussion with another human being in weeks or months.
I’ve seen eyes light up as I extended a hand, or offered a meal and an opening question, letting the person know I care. I’ve also been flatly rejected, and that’s okay. The response of the other is not on us; taking the initiative is on us. We have a responsibility, a privilege, to share the message of reconciliation, Jesus, with a decrepit and decaying world all around us. Whether on the streets or in the office or on the job site or during our “free time.” Preach Christ, and Him crucified. Preach the Resurrection, in word and deed. Share your story. Relate. Fight sin. Love the Lord your God. Find joy in the work he has laid before us.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
-C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory