In any consideration of homelessness we are dealing most profoundly with the question ‘who is on the inside and who is on the outside?’
The obvious sense of the question is the physical one, who is literally inside and outside, of shelter and of home. But it is also true that it raises the question of who is inside and outside of culture, our community, who are the ones who have access to power and wealth and those who have not, those who have possessions and influence and those who have not.
Sadly it is also the case that often the answers to both questions are the same people. Those who are outside with no shelter are also those who are excluded from the access to power and wealth and possession.
The Gospel finds itself intimately concerned with the same questions. Who is inside and who is outside? and how to bring up close those who are far away? For at the heart of the Gospel is the grace of hospitality which is why Christians must be most concerned with the fact that people sleep rough in our towns and cities.
In the passages we read this morning this concern is uppermost.
Matthew 25 for instance, seems to indicate that there is a judgment solely for those who are on the inside, those who have access to shelter, and clothes, and food and water. And the evidence that will be weighed to make that judgment is not their fidelity to church service, nor their denominational affiliation or their worship preferences, but the evidence of how these people on the inside treated those who were outside.
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
“For inasmuch as you did it to the least of these you did it to me” says Jesus.
How we use the privilege of our insider status – our resources, our dreams and aspirations, our shelter – to serve those who are outside, with none of these things should be the all-consuming question for the church.
[Incidentally, have you noticed that the parable does not indicate any judgment for those who are on the outside?]
And in Hebrews 13 we have the summary statement of the Gospel we proclaim.
11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Here is one accustomed to the outside whose life and death were shaped by his outsider status. Rejected, despised, exiled from his home town, no place to lay his head. Ultimately crucified outside the civilised place, where the respectable people gathered.
And in turn he calls us to go to the outside. To leave the place of privilege, power and influence. To take the risk of stepping outside the bounds of respectability and there to risk something and to find that Jesus is already there.
Among the outcast and the refugee, with the homeless person and the prisoner.
For the church is the only community which chooses to be outside for the sake of those who are outside through no choice of their own.