Jesus said that for the life of faith to be authentic there were two fundamentals. One was faith itself and the other a faith that works. He put it like this: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–40)
Of course that begs the question: “Who is my neighbour?” In answer to that question Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–27) in which a man reached out to his “neighbour” who had been mugged. Even this gesture could have endangered his own life as the attackers may still have been around. This Samaritan also reached out across a cultural divide as this injured man was a Jew and as the biblical text says: “Jews have no dealing with Samaritans”. After tending to the man’s wounds he found a safe place for him to recuperate and paid the cost of this accommodation out of his own pocket. That is faith in action.
So who might a neighbour be today?
In the scope of these reflections on homelessness might our neighbour be the person forced, for various reasons, to live rough on the street, or the family housed in inadequate and cramped accommodation with little of hope of being able to create a ‘home’?
Keith Adams in his Advent Reflection (in week 2) gives us disturbing figures regarding those who have no permanent place to lay their head. If we are to live out our faith then people who are homeless or in inadequate housing are our neighbours and so we should not pass by on the other side. We need to show them that their lives matter.
In the Christian understanding a healthy family life is of central importance to a flourishing society. So a place to call home, where individuals feel secure, loved and valued is a necessary environment for individuals to grow and mature and so be able to contribute to society.
As individuals and churches we may feel limited in what we can do to help but we can continue to lobby government to make better choices in the way they source accommodation and to provide much greater direct investment in social housing.
There are some practical things we can do in our churches too. During these days of lockdown when our church activities were not operating as normal we discovered how important it was to find new ways to reach out to support one another.
Hopefully these useful lessons from lockdown will encourage us to extend that caring out from the church community itself to vulnerable groups in our areas by making space and personnel available for community–building activities such as after school clubs or friendship gatherings. Practical and emotional support demonstrated through such activities can make an impact by showing people feeling the stigma of homelessness or the stress of housing insecurity that their lives matter and that they are valued.
To love God and not forget our neighbour are the fundamentals of an authentic journey of faith.
At this Christmas time one of the people in the birth narrative of Jesus that I wonder about is the Innkeeper. I am sure that when the door knocked that evening all he wanted to do was to be left in peace. However, moved by the plight of a homeless family, did he turn them away or did he do what he could to ensure that the holy family was housed in a safe place? I am sure that if Jesus had reflected on a similar incident he would have said: ‘Go and do likewise’.
Rev Dr Ivan Patterson is President of the Irish Council of Churches and co–Chair of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting.
This post is the final one in a series on this blog which aims to provide resources for reflection and action on the topic of homelessness. Different voices representing a number of organisations have focussed on the scale of the issues including the personal and social impact involved. The blogs also offered suggestions for study and civic engagement. Small church community gatherings will find them most helpful. Please pass on the word to others about this initiative. May Advent be a grace–filled time for you. Further resources for churches on housing insecurity and homelessness can be found at irishchurches.org/homeless.