I suspect that there are few people who don’t like the stories of Paddington Bear; the little bear whose Aunt Lucy sent him to England when she entered a home for retired bears in Darkest Peru. Paddington was homeless, found by Mr Brown on the platform of Paddington Station with the sign “Please look after this bear “round his neck.
I suspect most of us would be delighted to take home a real Paddington bear, not considering the risks involved: a foreigner with a chronic addiction, (marmalade!), maybe not house-trained, and a bear for goodness sake!
So why might we be more reluctant to help, befriend, take home the many homeless and destitute people we encounter in our local railway stations and on the high-streets of our towns and villages? These people are real, not a character from children’s fiction. Do we walk by on the other side, a little uneasy about the stranger in our midst? If we do, it has a precedent.
In Luke’s gospel Jesus told the story of a priest and a Levite who each, in turn, walk by on the other side when they encounter a man left for dead by assailants on the Jericho road from Jerusalem. We can speculate all day as to why they ignored the man, but the bottom line is, they did. Yet a Samaritan, moved with compassion, went to the injured man’s aid.
He was himself a foreigner, not only a foreigner but one whose fellow countrymen were despised and hated by most Jews living in Jerusalem and the surrounding country. The very man who he gave help to would likely have seen him as an enemy! Nevertheless, his concern was for his fellow human who had been so brutally attacked. He saw the need and stepped in, without consideration of any risks he might personally be taking. He gave of his time, his own money and committed himself to ensuring that the stranger was cared for, even taking him to safety on his the back of his own animal.
Let’s not forget that Jesus was a stranger throughout his earthly life. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him”, [John 1:10]. Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, lives in all his children. So, the next time we encounter a stranger and are tempted to walk by on the other side, rather than show love and compassion, we might re-consider. It could well be Jesus that we are choosing not to love.
Sculpture: The Homeless Christ by Timothy P Schmalz.
Ordinand on placement from Yorkshire Ministry Course