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“I Was Hungry”

April 18, 2012

ON Wednesday Evenings, I feed the homeless of Berkeley at a Lutheran Church near the Cal campus. I started doing this about a year and a half ago when a friend of mine, who was then just back into Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and sobriety after many years out, recommended the experience.

Doing this has changed me. At first, it took some getting used to – the smells of people who sleep rough in the streets, who have no dental care, no medical care, faces and bodies begrimed by the doorways that are their pillows every night, and from some the odor of whatever chemical they use to ease the pain of being forgotten.

There are others who are fastidious about their personal hygiene; they sleep in cars or (when it’s not pouring rain) in parks. One guy in the halls bought a house and, because he was naive, was cheated out of thousands of dollars, and at the end of it had no house and had lost his job and was on the streets.

There are as many stories in the meal hall as there are diners.

That’s the thing about dealing one-on-one with homeless people: they stop being a category – a mental abstraction, a them – and become richly complex individuals with stories as filled with vice and Divine Grace as my own. When I started, I thought I was bringing Christ’s compassion to them – but I realized as time went on that they were really bringing Christ to me. In those weary faces at the tables, I saw Christ staring back at me, asking me where I’d been all this time. He had been out there, in doorways, shivering in cold rains and stumbling in rags and singing to the midnight streets, waiting for me to show up.

I feed Him in His Homeless, and in return, in an act of astounding and tender mercy, He shows me the depths of my own brokenness.

Blessed be the Lord.

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8 Comments
  1. Mark Gordon permalink
    April 19, 2012 5:43 am

    And blessed be Matt Talbot, his good and faithful servant.

    • Ronald King permalink
      April 19, 2012 9:05 am

      I second that!

  2. brian martin permalink
    April 19, 2012 10:59 pm

    I was blessed to be able to do mental health outreach work to homeless families by virtue of the fact that my wife was the case manager of a local shelter and no one else from my work wanted to go there, Pardon the language, but I was scared shitless the first couple of times I went to the shelter. I didn’t know which of these guys was going to beat me up or hurt my wife. (And there were some very interesting close calls over the years)
    Like Matt says, as I got to know them as people, they became individuals, and I lost the fear. I got to know them on a personal human level, and they were no longer “those homeless people” The shelter is run by a number of churches, and a retired Lutheran Pastor referred to the shelter as the “narthax” of the Church for these people. My wife talked about it in terms of remembering. Re-membering them and us as parts of the body of Christ.

  3. hisgirlfriday permalink
    April 22, 2012 9:31 pm

    Hello, saw this link from Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Agree with you very much on homeless stopping being an abstraction when you see them one-on-one. This is something I’ve discovered since moving downtown to a large city and encountering homeless people on a daily basis asking for help.

    For some reason though, Matthew 25 didn’t fully click for me until I read the similar line in Proverbs 19:17. “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD” So when I read your story about seeing Christ staring back at you at the homeless shelter, I thought of course you saw Christ, you were lending to the Lord.

  4. jason permalink
    April 22, 2012 11:48 pm

    This is really self-depricating.

  5. April 23, 2012 1:35 pm

    What is the name of the Lutheran church? I live in Berkeley and would live to come by.

    • April 23, 2012 3:42 pm

      It would be great to meet you, Nathan – Lutheran Church of the Cross at 1744 University Ave. (about 5 or 6 blocks below Shattuck). I usually get there at about 6pm.

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  1. On Seeing People as People « Notes from a Small Place

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