My View, Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster: Offer the homeless some food and drink

A woman handing out food to a homeless man
A woman handing out food to a homeless man

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” (Matthew 25:35-40)

The Christian Gospel says we should be caring for the poor, those who lack clothing, strangers, prisoners, the sick. In failing to care for the poor and those in need, we are failing to care for those with whom Jesus identified. In the passage I’ve quoted, Jesus is holding up to us the pattern for practical self-giving love. There is nothing like it in the world. Whether you are a Christian – or of another faith or no faith – we are, as an expression of love, called to care for others as we would hope others would care for us.

Last week I wrote of the plight of those suffering from severe flooding and praised those who responded to their need. This week, as I write this article it is bright and sunny but desperately cold. I hate being cold and when I am I can feel myself beginning to close down, I lack energy and interest in doing anything other than keeping warm. So my thoughts are turned this week to those most vulnerable to severe cold – the elderly and those living on our streets. There’s no doubt cold winter weather can be a worry for those in later life, the homeless and those suffering fuel poverty.

These people may be members of our family, friends or neighbours. If you go to Age UK’s website there is a lot of practical information and suggestions to help keep people safe in winter. One thing we can all do, is to keep an eye out for our neighbours and if we notice anything, act on it. As I have said before, when you pass a homeless person shivering from extreme and prolonged exposure to cold weather, offer to buy them a warm drink and something to eat. These are ways of expressing love, concern and care and potentially could save a life. Here is one practical story that demonstrates positive loving action and explains the Bible quote with which I started…

Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One freezing day a beggar asked him for alms. Martin had no money but seeing the man blue with cold, he ripped his soldier’s cloak in half and gave one part to the beggar. That night he had a dream. He saw Jesus in the courts of heaven, wearing half a cloak. He heard an angel ask, ‘master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?’ And Jesus replied, ‘My servant Martin gave it me’.