One time a homeless man threw away my sandwich.
I offered the sandwich, he flung the sandwich, and I never saw serving the same. It was just one moment and one guy and one sandwich, but it shaped the way I served for years.
I was involved in a young adult group that prepared and packaged PB&Js for homeless people once a week. Most of the sandwich recipients were grateful for the generic grape and off-brand creamy on white that we wrapped up and passed out downtown.
Most, but not all.
They all had troubled pasts—bad decisions, drug dependencies, or broken minds. But some responded to the gift with gratitude, while others threw the sandwich on the ground and made demands.
This instance, my most problematic PB&J exchange ever, made me wonder if we should just leave the homeless alone. I was handing sandwiches to a large group of guys and several said “thanks.” But one, immediately and angrily said, “Man, I don’t want this.” Then, he fiercely flung it at the trashcan nearby (he missed) and said, “You got any money?”
Wait. That’s not how this is supposed to work, right?
So a sinner rejected my sandwich. This guy was homeless, but he trashed my snack and asked for cash I didn’t have.
I felt like a failure.
Then, I felt angry.
And then, I stopped serving sinners.
Loving bad people can be frustrating. Serving sinners who waste your work can feel like a waste of time. As leaders, positioning our groups to shape culture through gospel-fueled acts of service is challenging, especially when the people we serve need to be served because of their own sin.
I’m sure your group has faced the question, “Who should we help?” “Who should we love?” “Who can we trust not to use us and waste our work as we try to be like Jesus?”
Will our group serve bad people? I’ve certainly asked this question. I mean, a homeless man wasted my sandwich.
Thank God Jesus isn’t like me.
We see people who are homeless and we judge their circumstances. But Jesus sees a heart He wants to bring home. We see dads with no relationship with their children because they were bad fathers. Jesus sees a son He wants to save. We see co-workers lose their jobs because of dishonesty or selfish ambition. Jesus sees someone working for something they can only find in Him.
In those types of circumstances, we often don’t really want to help. We ask, “Who sinned?”
He wouldn’t be homeless if he wasn’t a sinner. He would have a family if he wasn’t a bad person. She would have a job if she wasn’t wicked.
Who wants to listen to those people?
Who wants to help?
Jesus does. Jesus wants to listen. Jesus wants to serve.
“None is righteous, no, not one…” – Romans 3:10
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5-8
Jesus serves even though we’ve all thrown sandwiches. If Jesus only listened to the needs of people who deserved none of the blame for their problems, He’d never listen to anybody. If Jesus only helped with the hurts of the innocent, He would never help anyone and would never have left heaven in the first place.
But Jesus listened and Jesus served and Jesus loves. Let your group serve bad people. It’s not a waste; it’s a picture of the gospel. We have all squandered grace, yet still we are loved to the depths in Christ.
Brandon Hiltibidal is a former church planter and multi-site pastor, and he is now part of the Groups Ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources. He and his wife have three little girls and lead a community group at The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, TN.