CNN.com featured a story this morning about a doctor who, for over 20 years has treated the homeless in Pittsburg. Dressing “up” like a homeless person, Dr. Jim Withers goes out into the streets to connect with people who live in tents and other makeshift shelters. Over the years his work has evolved into an organized outreach to bring health care to folk who have lots of problems, and few resources.
You can find the story at at CNN here.
Lots of interesting angles here. These are people with many issues (sometimes that’s why they are on the streets in the first place.) Physical, emotional, psychological – tough challenges in their lives, not to mention how they will keep warm, and where there next meal is coming from.
Of course, the people Dr. Withers (and others) connects with are unimportant, and are usually forgotten. They are what Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol, called, “the surplus population.” We can very easily (and sometimes even preferably) do without them!
Yet, for Dr. Withers they are people of value, not because of what they do, or who they are, but simply because they are.
Sound familiar? It really should. What Dr. Withers emulates is something bigger and something deeper – the love of God!
Isn’t that what God’s love is for us? We say God loves us for “who we are.” I suppose that’s a true statement, but I’d rather say, “God loves us simply because we are.”
Not that we always believe that. Sometimes we imagine ourselves to be more than we are. I am productive and accomplished. I contribute to society. I’m a good person. All that has value, and all of that counts with God – sort of “brownie points” in heaven. Or so we think. God loves me because I’m a wonderful human being, and I have earned that love, or at least contributed significantly to it.
Except that I really haven’t. God’s love is not about loveable me. God’s love is about a loving God, one who loves me despite all that I really am. While I might imagine myself to be something extraordinary, I’m pretty flawed, and really, God has a lot better things to do than to hang on to me. Yet, that is precisely what God does.
Or sometimes we are very convinced we have no value – we are so unimportant, does anyone really care? We imagine that we are alone, that we are by ourselves, and we become disconnected from the rest of life around us.
So maybe Dr. Withers work does imitate the work of God – reaching out to those who are seemingly without value, and giving them value, just as God, through Jesus, gives me value, and makes me worthy of all life. In the end, it’s all a gift to the unimportant and undeserving, whether it’s Dr. Withers work with the homeless, or God’s work with me!
A gift even when I don’t think I need it; a gift even when I don’t think I could ever have it!
But I was also intrigued with how Dr. Withers does his work. He “dresses homeless,” even dirties his hair. Why? To be with the homeless, to share with them, and to walk their path. That too should sound familiar.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
That’s Jesus – Jesus, the Word, who becomes “flesh,” who “dresses human,” who probably had dirty hair, in order to be with us, to share with us, and to walk our path. In Jesus, God embraces our reality, our pain, hurt, and fear. In Jesus, we are not abandoned, or left on our own. God is in our midst!
Of course, my dirt and my squalor may be a bit different from a homeless person. I have a nice home, I shower every day, and for the most part I eat well. I get health care and I take care of my basic needs. I have family and friends who care. My life is pretty clean.
But…I also have my fears, unknowns, and uncertainties. I have a whole list of things I wish I could do better, and an even longer list of flaws and failures. The God who comes to me in Jesus walks with me in the midst of all of that. God is not beyond me, or absent from me. In my most vulnerable moments God is right there, by my side, standing with me.
Why? Because that’s just the kind of God that God is! God is a God of grace, a God who loves us simply because we are, and a God who sticks around, through thick and thin.
That is part of what is impressive about Dr. Withers. He’s done this for 23 years – for 23 years he has gotten dirty, and brought health care to people who seemingly have no value, no worth, no importance. For 23 years! Dr. Withers is either committed, or crazy, or both!
And God? For me, it’s been 54 years – but I’m just one of many. For centuries…for millennia…for all time God has been there to walk with people who seemingly have no value, no worth, no importance – like me, and like you. God has been there, dirty hair and all, to journey with us and to bring us life in Jesus. God has been persistent and faithful since the beginning of time, and even with all eternity ahead of us, God is not about to stop. God will be there to bring us value, and God will get dirty that we may life.
Now that is one committed and crazy God!