Last week, I attended the Mass for the deceased homeless at St James Cathedral. Two hundred and eighty-nine unhoused people died last year in shelters, hospitals, or on the streets. Father Ryan, spoke of how Jesus, the Son of Man was also homeless. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).” Many of us find our home and family in the church. The teaching, preaching, and healing of Jesus are a literal refuge in the storms of our lives. Sitting in the pews and grieving the violent loss of life experienced by my homeless friends, I thought of all the people that have been welcomed and cared for by the faith community. Listening to all the names of the deceased read aloud in the courtyard, punctuated between bagpipes, church bells, and the tears of the faithful few, my longing for fellowship is fulfilled. I wish when we thought of church, the image we had was this, a group of people caring for and suffering with each other. A community that welcomes strangers into friendship with themselves and their creator. Jesus is the God that serves and suffers for all of humanity. “A God with no beautiful or desirable form or majesty. Despised and rejected, a man acquainted with our grief and sorrow, A man crushed by our violence (Isaiah 53:3-5).”
The median age of the two hundred and eighty-nine homeless people that died in King County was fifty-one. The median age of death for people in King County with homes is seventy-nine. What if we viewed homelessness as the public health crisis that it is? Instead of turning away from suffering, what if we, like Jesus stopped, turned, and forgave? What if the church worshiped the God of mercy and justice? “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).”
When communities like St James gather together and serve the most vulnerable in our city, God is glorified. It’s easy to be frustrated with the church. However, when I experience the body of Christ grieving the death of two hundred and eighty-nine homeless men and women, the forgiveness of Jesus turns my selfishness into selflessness and my suffering into service.