You might have seen this video being circulated on social media lately, about a shopkeeper and a homeless man:
This does not sit right with me. In fact as far as reasons go for treating homeless people better, this is terrible.
Sure, there’s something moving about it. A guy is mean to a homeless man who he finds regularly sleeping outside his store each morning. Eventually the homeless man dies, and on reviewing the security footage, the shopkeeper discovers that the homeless man had actually been helping him by doing things like keeping the area tidy and chasing off hooligans and thieves. He died because he was defending the store when a potential robber stabbed him. The shopkeeper assumed the worst without really knowing the guy, and his conscience is pricked when he finds out.
Love is not about treating people well because they have been good enough to us to earn our favour.
That’s all very nice. His conscience should be pricked. He was unkind. If the upshot of people watching this video is that they act more kindly, then that’s great. The video is an advertisement for a security camera. If only you could see more! Here’s a camera so that you can see more. But not many people will think about buying the camera when watching this. They will think: Yeah, the homeless guy was actually a good person and did a lot to help the shopkeeper. He deserved better. If the shopkeeper had really known how helpful that guy was, he would have treated him better.
I don’t want to be the guy who kills that warm fuzzy feeling, but that is exactly what the Christian concept of love is not like. Love is not about treating people well because they have been good enough to us to earn our favour. Love – the kind of love that God through the Gospel shows to us – is about treating people with kindness and goodness even if they don’t deserve it, no, especially if they don’t deserve it. God’s “security camera” of omniscience sees everything we do, and it’s not all that pretty, but having compassion on us in spite of that is exactly what distinguishes real love from a system of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
It would have been a far better illustration of love if the shopkeeper had discovered this man breaking into his store, and offered to give him what he needed for free because he was hungry and cold.
The message here is all wrong. The shopkeeper should not have refrained from tipping water over this homeless man, swearing at him out and chasing him away because he lacked the full story (namely, the story of how good this man really was and how he had helped the shopkeeper). What if he had watched the video and seen that the homeless guy just slept there and occasionally smoked weed? Should the shopkeeper then have said to himself, “Ah-ha! So I was right after all”? No. Instead he should have refrained from treating this man like garbage because here, lying on the ground in front of him, was a human being in need, somebody made in God’s image, the “least of these,” to borrow a phrase from Jesus, and because showing love and compassion to him reflects God’s love and compassion for us. In fact it would have been a far better illustration of love if the shopkeeper had discovered this man breaking into his store, and offered to give him what he needed for free because he was hungry and cold.
The shopkeeper shouldn’t feel terrible because of what the security camera showed him. He should have felt bad because it took a case that this poor man “deserved” help to realise that he had acted wrongly.
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