Jesus wept (John 11:35).
Hardly any Christian would dispute this historical fact. Yet what if Jesus’ weeping is not just a historical fact, but also an ongoing act? If Jesus grieved over sin and wept over the death of Lazarus, he is still weeping today. When children are abandoned, when the naked are forgotten, and when the sick are ignored, his heart grieves.
Jesus’ mourning encompasses all of humanity’s suffering. Those who are attentive to God’s weeping are attentive to the world’s suffering. Our indifference to the world’s pain, on the other hand, only proves our indifference towards God. As Bonhoeffer once wrote in his Letters and Papers from Prison:
“Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving.” That is what distinguishes Christians from pagans … Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world … It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.
True Christians are known for their “participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life” rather than their “religious acts.” John Stott argues, too, that the Church needs to be “holy” and “worldly” simultaneously—worldly in the sense that we are deeply involved in the world’s life and suffering. When children are abandoned, when the naked are forgotten, and when the sick are ignored, God's heart grieves. Click To Tweet
Three Ways to Participate in the Suffering Ministry of God
We participate in others’ suffering first and foremost by grieving with them, just as Jesus shared the sorrow of Mary and Martha by joining them in weeping.
Yet if God’s anguish towards sin and death led Him to touch, speak to, and identify with those the society deemed unworthy, our common grief should also prompt us towards actions that embody God’s love for the hurting ones.
The following three ministries—in which all can participate—give us the opportunity to become agents of His love:
1. The Ministry of Visitation
A ministry of visitation to the poor, sick, orphans, and widows has been a mark of the Church’s practice from the very beginning. What, however, does “visiting” mean? It is not a ministry of fixing, but of presence. To visit someone demands that one listen attentively and participate genuinely in his or her story. Such a process requires the disciple to offer not solutions, but care, attentiveness, and time.
Today, the homeless, among many others, need such human “visits.” Their longing goes beyond food, clothing, and shelter; they need friendship and conversation. Perhaps some of them seem reluctant to talk—but this is not necessarily because they dislike interactions. Many hesitate to open up simply because, like you and me, they fear rejection. Their stories often involve domestic violence, drug addiction, family abandonment, or mental disorders. Some, coming from other countries, suffer from governmental persecution or corruption. Some, despite sharing the same faith as us, feel timid in seeking help from a church.
As we develop relationships with these men and women, we can incorporate our individual gifts and training into our visits. British chiropodist Jenny Donovan, for example, provides free foot care every week to people who are homeless. Our versions of service may be offering a haircut, musical entertainment, or language classes. What skills can you offer in service to this community?
And, of course, the ordinary acts that help meet a small, practical need—be it preparing hot meals, washing dishes, cleaning toilets and showers, or setting up bedding—are also acts that reflect the Father’s heart.
2. The Ministry of Going Out and Befriending
Unfortunately, not all rough sleepers have the luxury of resting in homeless shelters. Nonetheless, friendships and conversations can still be cultivated on the street. Depending on where we live, our daily routine of “going out” into the street itself may still provide countless opportunities to befriend people, including the homeless.
Recent reports show that most of the rough-sleepers in the U.S. reside in New York City and Los Angeles. London, too, recently experienced an approximately 15 percent increase in the number of homeless people. These are some of the most vibrant cities in the world where the wealthiest, but also the busiest, live. Many are too preoccupied to notice those who have no home. Others have just enough time to drop in a few spare coins, but not enough to stop and hear what the homeless have to say.
ASLAN, a homeless ministry in London, sets aside specific time weekly for believers to participate in “tea runs” and visits in which they can develop friendships with rough sleepers. Not only do they provide clothing, food, and drinks, but also they make space to converse about life and Jesus.
Eugene Peterson offers a needed word for us here when he observes:
People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.
The person with no home is more than their lack of a current address. Each of them has a unique story to tell. While we are to share the burdens of the poor, we are not to see the people as burdens; they are not “problems” to be eliminated with a few donations.
3. The Ministry of Radical Hospitality
Besides “going out,” we can also invite these less fortunate ones in. Scripture consistently encourages us to exercise hospitality not just to our brothers and sisters, but also to the disadvantaged strangers who may not share the same faith as us (Job 31:32; Leviticus 19:33–34; Hebrews 13:2; etc). The term “hospitality” in Greek, in fact, can be translated as “love of strangers.”
I don’t believe God asks us to forsake the safety of our families by inviting any strangers of whom we have absolutely no idea of into our homes; we need the Spirit’s wisdom and discernment.
But while we can recognize the need for wisdom and for the input from others in our community when it comes to risks to our own safety, let us also acknowledge the Lord can faithfully provide for those who commit their work into His hands. The Albrecht family in England, for example, invited a homeless man into their house for the first time 20 years ago. Since then, the Albrechts have joyfully hosted more than 300 homeless persons and founded The Catholic Worker Farm which provides residence, food, and English lessons to many women who are asylum seekers, sex slaves, or domestic workers.
In addition to homes, we can also welcome the homeless to our churches. By inviting them into community, we demonstrate the beauty and inclusiveness of God’s kingdom, where there are no divisions based on racial, social, and economic status. Many, having experienced the God who shows no partiality, do respond by coming to faith. Highway House, a homeless shelter associated with Highway of Holiness in London, has many of these stories to tell: among the 800 who have been taken care of, many who were formerly of other religious background have turned to Christ. The person with no home is more than their lack of a current address. Each of them has a unique story to tell. Click To Tweet
We Testify to The Weeping God
Through Isaiah, God describes true fasting as below,
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:7)
These solemn words bring us back to Bonhoeffer’s statement, that what God desires is not shallow religious acts, but our participation in His sufferings. Be it sharing food with the hungry, sheltering the sojourners, or clothing the naked, all these acts demand us not to turn away from our “very own flesh and blood.” While the body of Christ is of His flesh and bone (Ephesians 5:30), this “very own flesh and blood” symbolizes the entire post-fall humanity, for “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26, NKJV).
The more we remain within our own “spiritual bubble,” the more deaf our ears become towards the world’s cry. Today, let us once again turn towards the suffering ones in the world and join in their struggles, for when we do, we find ourselves becoming the evidence of the loving God who is still weeping today.