Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Clean Hands, Empty Heart

On Nov. 14, 2012 NYPD officer Lawrence DePrimo, was on regular counterterrorism duty in Times Square. The evening air was chilly and no one noticed the homeless man propped up against a building on 42nd street, except for officer DePrimo. The first thing that the officer noticed was that the homeless man had no shoes or socks on. The officer later said, “It was freezing out, and you could see the blisters on the man's feet. I had two pairs of socks, and I was still cold.” When the officer saw that pitiful sight his heart was moved with compassion.

He left his beat and then then returned with a pair of $100 boots he bought at a nearby Skechers shoe store. The officer said, “I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let's put them on and take care of you.” The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. It just so happened that about that time a tourist from Arizona who witnessed this random act of kindness took out her cellphone and snapped a photo. When she uploaded it to the internet it became a sensation.

The lady who tagged the image said, “I have been in law enforcement for 17 years, and I was never so impressed in my life . . . The reminder this officer gave to our profession in his presentation of human kindness has not been lost.”[1]      

I don’t know if that police officer was a believer in Christ, but I think his actions speak louder than any sermon I have ever preached on compassion and love. Like the old preachers said, “There are actually five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and You. By the way, most people will not read the first four.”

When I read what kind of life the Scripture calls us to I am often ashamed of my own hardness of heart. We may even make excuses for not helping others in need. “I’m too busy.” “They are just lazy and need to get a job.” “I can barely pay my own bills, so how can I spare any money to help.” I know all those excuses are pretty lame. But I’ve used them and so have you, if you’re being honest. But look at what the Bible says about professing Christians who ignore the plight of others:

1 John 3:17-18 says, “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

James 2:15-17 adds, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Ouch! John questions if we have the love of God in our heart and James says our faith is about as lively as a cadaver when we turn a blind eye to others in need. That’s pretty stern stuff, but it’s true. The overriding principle in both verses is this: if we have clean hands, then our hearts are probably empty of faith and love. Show me the hands of Palmolive model and I’ll show you evidence of a heart that is devoid of the compassion which moved Jesus to touch the lepers and feed the masses.      

What if Jesus had the same attitude about coming to Earth and dying on the cross? Just imagine the Son turning to the Father and saying, “I know you love the humans, but just look at them murdering, stealing, and blaspheming. They are dirty sinners that will never change. Think of how often they have grieved us. And you want me to die for them? We’d be better off erasing them and starting over!” I’m glad Jesus doesn’t think like us. He is able to love us through a layer of mud and sin.  

So when was the last time you reached out and touched someone in need? That toothless homeless guy that sits on the street corner with the sign, “Dreaming of Cheeseburger,” is probably looking for more than just a handout. The single mom who can’t pay her light bill is a mission field you can reach. The elderly person who sits at home alone just needs a sacrifice of time. 

Christ has commissioned us to be His hands and feet in a world filled with people who need a gentle touch to remind them of God’s love. While we don’t help others to be put in the limelight, you never know who might be watching and what impact a simple act of compassion and generosity might have on them. Jesus reached out and took the outcasts by the hand (Mark 6:53-56) and if our witness is to resemble anything like that our Master it will require us digging into our pockets, rolling up our sleeves and walking across the street to meet the ones that life has beat up.

[1] Dylan Stableford, “NYPD Officer Photographed Giving Boots to Barefoot Homeless Man Melts Icy Hearts Online,” Yahoo! News, 29 November 2012 < http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/nypd-boots-homeless-man-photo-145219581.html> accessed 5 August 2013. 

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