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Jesus and the Homeless

Aly Hathcock

When we talk about the homeless, we tend to lump them into the category of the “undesirables,” sticking them right between the sinners and the tax collectors. However, many people would argue that Jesus was, perhaps, homeless himself.

devozine Homeless Man at Fence Ftr webres TS 92154514-1While spending a summer with the homeless, I discovered there are two general characteristics that define homelessness. The first is that though they may have a roof over their heads, many, if not most, nights, people who are homeless bounce around from place to place, relying on the hospitality of others to survive—sort of like a version of couch surfing.

Throughout the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we see Jesus travelling between Judea and Galilee numerous times—a journey that would have taken a full week to complete—as well as travelling throughout Galilee. Each year, Jesus travelled to Jerusalem at least three times—for Passover (7 days), the Feast of Weeks (2 days), and the Feast of Booths (7 days). This means that, in total, Jesus spent at over 8 weeks per year travelling to or from Jerusalem and staying in Jerusalem.

Scholars estimate Jesus travelled approximately 3125 miles during his 3 years of ministry. This averages out to 1042 miles per year, which then translates to 58 days (8+ weeks) of solid walking. Add in his actual time doing ministry in Jerusalem and Galilee, and Jesus likely spent anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of his 3 years in ministry outside of his home in Nazareth. This meant he was constantly asking fellow Jews to give him a place to sleep at night. Like many of the homeless today, Jesus was a couch surfer.

The second characteristic of homeless individuals is that they generally eat whatever they can find or are given. In John 6, we see Jesus on the mount, surrounded by more than 5,000 hungry people. The crowd needed to be fed, so Jesus’ disciples found the only person who had food—not Jesus but a little boy. Rather than ask for some other type of food, Jesus took what had been given to him and multiplied it.

Throughout the Synoptic Gospels, we never see Jesus acting in a capacity where he provided his own food. He never played host but was always a guest in the home of another. Each time Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, he was at someone else’s home. He ate whatever the host gave him to eat. Even at the Last Supper, the disciples were the ones who prepared for Passover at the house of a Jewish man.

Homeless Man Face TS 89943112The homeless are ultimately reliant on other people to survive. For both food and shelter, they must rely on the hospitality of those who are not homeless. The ministry of Jesus is also characterized by this. Jesus, though fully God, was also fully man. Perhaps he could have made food or even a house appear with the snap of his fingers, but chose to remain humble and reliant on those around him.

If we accept the notion that Jesus was indeed homeless, we must ask ourselves why we worship Jesus and yet ignore and even scorn the homeless people we pass by every day. If Jesus came back today as a homeless man, would he be disappointed in the way we treated him? Would we even recognize him?

Watch and listen to the video “Unseen—No Ordinary Story,” stories about life on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. Then check out Aly’s article “Questions You’re Afraid to Ask” for the story behind the documentary.

Aly Hathcock a multimedia storyteller who loves Jesus and adventure. Find out more about her at alyhathcock.com and on Twitter at @alyhathcock.

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