Written by Haley Earley, Development and Community Engagement Assistant at the Rochester Salvation Army
There was a working man dressed in a suit and tie who lived in a simple home. Every day as he headed out to work, he passed a panhandler covered in dirt longing for the workingman’s leftovers.
There was a working woman dressed in an apron with her hair pulled back who lived in a second story apartment. Everyday as she walked to the bus stop, she passed a hobo sleeping on a bench longing for a hand out.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”
The first two scenarios are not too different from the story of The Rich Man and the Beggar as portrayed in Luke 16:19-26. By translating this story into a modern day setting, the definition of wealth and the stereotypes of a homeless man differ, but the content remains much the same. A person of higher means passes by a person of lesser means.
When we apply modern-day stereotypes to the story of the rich man and the beggar, it seems easier to let it pass by. This situation is normalized, even accepted, and thus ignored on a regular basis. Yet in Luke 16, there is one glaring difference compared to the first two examples: the beggar has a name.
There may be panhandlers, hobos, and beggars whose names you know because so often they introduce themselves to share their story, but when was the last time you even thought to ask their name? The homeless population is often dehumanized as people disregard their existence each time they avoid eye contact.
The biggest problem for people dealing with homelessness often isn’t just the lack of food or housing, but the lack of humanity – of being known and called by name.
It doesn’t require much for each person of higher means to express a sense of dignity and worth to the beggar on the corner. We can restore compassion to our society with a few small steps:
- Be willing to make eye contact
- Pause for a moment to say “hello”
- Listen and acknowledge the struggles and emotions being expressed
One way to do this in a safe and controlled environment is to volunteer at your local Salvation Army. Although there is presently a “great chasm” in the relationship of the rich and the poor in our society, we can bridge this gap through compassion and conversation.