Earlier this year, I registered as a subscriber on Nextdoor, an online local social networking service (think of it like Facebook for your neighborhood). You can use Nextdoor to ask for advice on local businesses and service providers, compare notes on schools in the community, buy and sell stuff, find out how that new restaurant in town is, introduce yourself as a newcomer to the area, post notices about lost pets, and grouse about drivers who speed on local streets.
A recent thread was complaining about a homeless man in the Agoura Hills area. Many commenters were speculating about where this man was from and what he was up to, with many assuming the worst about him. What happened next changed the entire tenor of the comment section. A woman started a new post titled, “Homeless Man is My Son.” Here are some of her comments, edited for space:
I have been reading everyone’s comments about the homeless man. I just want all of you to know that he is my son. He has lived in Agoura Hills for over 45 years. He has some mental health issues that I can no longer deal with, but I am doing everything I can to get him the help he needs. He didn’t steal any of the items in the cart, but he has “borrowed” the cart. He is trying to keep his distance from everyone because of COVID-19. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a job or any money, and I have been giving him some money and food, clothes, etc. I am 73, and I lost my husband of 50 years last November. I am at high risk of dying from COVID-19 because of my diabetes and A-Fib. I can’t have him in the house with me, and I have been told by the Department of Mental Health to stop enabling him. You have no idea how heartbreaking it is for me to watch my son live like this. All I want is the best for him. I will always love him.
When last I checked, there were 235 comments following this post offering tangible support and care, as well as expressing words of encouragement and blessing to this mom and her son. What struck me was the before and after contrast: from people expressing frustration and hostility toward a generic group of people called “the homeless,” to people expressing care and support toward a fellow human being who is known to one woman as “my son.” I was heartened to see how much empathy was expressed when one mom opened her heart and vulnerably shared her pain.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. Jesus told a parable in Matthew 25 whose punchline was, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family [or, one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine], you did it to me.” Can we allow ourselves to see fellow human beings where others see a category, to see a member of Jesus’ family where others see a burden, to see a brother and sister of Jesus where others see “the other”? What a difference that would make in our neighborhood, our country, and our world!