One night in Knoxville’s Old City, our group ran into a homeless friend named Daytona. He was hungry, so we offered to buy him a slice of pizza at our favorite late night pizza joint.
Daytona eagerly waited for us as we went in to buy his pizza. But when the owner of the shop saw Daytona watching us through the window, he refused to sell to us. He said, “You guys think you’re doing good, but you’re just enabling these guys. And it’s business owners like us that suffer.”
So we sent Rachel in to buy the pizza. The owner interrogated her in an attempt to expose her generosity.
Daytona was troubled by the ordeal and came in to apologize for causing problems. The owner yelled at him and told him to leave the building immediately.
There was another time that we brought a drunken homeless man into a coffee shop. He started dancing to the music and stuffing sugar packets into his pocket. The barista sighed in frustration and said, “I’m tired of telling you, you can’t come in here anymore.”
Moments of opposition were a reality check for our group.
I always thought the general population didn’t mind the poor — that society saw helpers of the poor as noble and good. But my assumptions were wrong. Homelessness is bad for business, and is a public nuisance.
In many ways I understand. Our drunken friend was stealing sugar packets from the coffee shop. And we found out later that many businesses had banned him for sexually harassing their female customers.
Then there was Daytona, who regularly panhandled in front of the pizza shop. Every weekend the owner of the business watched potential customers cross the street to avoid the beggar at his door.
The fact of the matter is most people don’t want beggars hanging around.
I get it. A business owner has the right to refuse service to someone who may spoil the vibe of their establishment.
And individuals have the right to avoid making eye contact with beggars on the street.
But Jesus asks his followers to let go of these rights.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says the final judgment will consist of a separation of sheep from goats — the faithful from the faithless.
To summarize a lengthy passage, Jesus says the metric for faithfulness will be whether or not we ministered to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner.
Also known as “the least of these.”
This is the end of the passage:
“Then they [the goats] will also answer, saying ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them saying, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:44-46, ESV)
Did you see that?
The goats call Jesus “Lord.”
Jesus isn’t talking to pizza shop owners who refuse service to the homeless.
He’s talking to those who call him Lord. To Christians.
There are plenty of people in this world who maintain their right to ignore the least of these.
But if you call Jesus Lord, consider surrendering that right.
Because, judging by this passage, I don’t think he’s kidding around.