New Bills And Laws Would Make Jesus A Criminal

New Bills And Laws Would Make Jesus A Criminal April 21, 2022

Canaan: Homeless Jesus /Wikimedia Commons

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matt. 8:20 RSV). Jesus, the Son of Man, was the incarnate Word of God who had divested himself of all his divine riches in order to become one of us. In this way, he became one of the poor on earth so that we could become rich in the kingdom of God. In his voluntary poverty, he embraced the life of an itinerant, homeless preacher, going around without a home of his own, even though, according to his divinity, all that exists could be said to be his. Knowing this, how could anyone who claims to love Jesus, anyone who claims to follow him, persecute or criminalize the homeless? Since Jesus said what we did to the least among us, we did to him  (cf. Matt. 25:40), how could any Christian think it is fine to ignore or make worse the plight of the homeless?? And yet, this is exactly what many Christians seem to do when they do not speak out against, if not actually encourage, the creation of laws which not makes things worse for the homeless, but turns them into criminals. They would be supporting laws which would have made the  homeless Jesus a criminal, and indeed, because of his unity with the homeless in the world, makes him a criminal through their criminalization.

There are several bills and laws being written and voted upon which seek to penalize, indeed, criminalize those who are homeless. For example, in Tennessee, the homeless would be persecuted for trying to sleep, where they will be fined or forced to do community service if they are caught resting on public grounds (which would either be turning their poverty into a means of using them for what could be said to be slave labor, or would be giving them fines which would make it impossible for them to get out of the situation they find themselves in):

Those who are homeless may soon be paying a $50 fine or doing community service if a bill expanding the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 is signed by Governor Bill Lee. Both the House and Senate have approved the bill.[1]

In New Jersey, the homeless need to have IDs, which many of them have difficulty obtaining, in order to receive public services, making it impossible for them to receive the services which they need:

The bureaucracy and hurdles that someone experiencing housing insecurity must clear to access a photo ID, birth certificate or Social Security card can delay the very help needed to pull the individuals out of homelessness, including rental assistance, public housing, welfare and other social service programs.[2]

In California, while the intention seems to be better, as Governor Newsom wants to provide aid to the homeless, the way he has set about doing it is fraught with problems, and is liable to cause more harm than good:

Six weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a far-reaching effort to push more people into court-ordered treatment for severe mental illness and addiction, homeless advocates are calling it legally misguided and immoral as the proposal’s first public hearing at the state Capitol has been delayed.[3]

It is clear, the problems faced by the homeless must be dealt with by society, but it must be done in such a way not to hide the homeless from society, nor to reject their natural rights and dignity What are needed is more social programs which would make things better for them, programs which would make it easier for them to move beyond their homeless condition. Laws which would abuse them must be resisted, especially by Christians who follow Jesus.  “If you ever see a poor person being harmed, do something about it. When that person is harmed, stand by him. He is despised because of poverty; the just person is at his side.” [4] Many, of course, try to find excuses they could use to ignore the plight of the homeless; among the worse are those who would make the public afraid of them by suggesting they tend to be violent criminals. Christians must denounce such rhetoric. We must be moved to take pity on them. “Do not pass by the poor, and let not his tattered rags incite thee to contempt, but let them rather move thee to pity thy fellow-creature.” [5] In doing so, we follow the example of Jesus, who became one of us out love and concern for us due to the way our existence had become impoverished due to sin:

And did He not for our sake, though rich and invested with power over everything, take on our poverty along with the kingship itself, in order that we, who are so very poor, might become rich in his imperishable riches and rule with his sovereignty? And did He not, though being uncreated and, what is more, being Maker and Creator of all creation, accept to be counted among creatures, in order to share with us his uncreated nature? [6]

We are constantly warned in the Christian tradition that we risk grave consequences if we do not treat the poor, the homeless, justly; so long as we let social structures of sin harm the most vulnerable of society,  our injustices will grow, and as they grow, we will slowly find that the build-up of such injustices will eventually turn on us, causing chaos and ruin for our whole society, as, for example, the Armenian Oft-Repeated Discourses warned:

Those who defile sacred things with unholy behavior and despise the law concerning the right of the homeless and mercy to those in need, and falsely hold on to the truth and ignore the tears of the oppressed, refuse to hear the cry of the detainees, and do similar evil things, for these (evils) the righteous Judge will deliver them to famine, to the sword, and to captivity and oblivion. [7]

God’s mercy is available to us, even if we have failed to act justly; all we need to do is repent, change our ways, and work on behalf of those in need. Then we can receive the fullness of God’s blessings for ourselves:

As for the believers who have sinned, confessed, repented, partaken of the saving mystery and have departed from the world, memorial services are held with Christ’s (Eucharistic) sacrifice and with prayers, with compassion for the homeless, and with other good deeds. For by the benevolence of us who have come later, those who are at rest are in truth renewed in eternal life.[8]

Christians must keep in mind Jesus and remember that Jesus in his life preached, and lived out, the preferential option for the poor. He became one of the poor to lift them up. Christians must promote the cause of Jesus. We must not accept any laws which would abuse the poor and needy. We must recognize that such laws would stand against Christ and all that he promoted.  Why would we, as Christians, promote abuses against Christ? How could we accepts laws which would turn him into a criminal? We cannot. We must look to what he said and did, and through our actions, through our political engagement, follow through and continue his work. We must promote justice in the world, lifting up those who have been mistreated and abused by society. When laws stand against justice, they are not to be supported, but fought against. When we see the elites of society scapegoating the poor and homeless, we must know they do so as a way to excuse their own sin. Such scapegoating can last only so long before society falls apart from its own injustice. When that happens, we must remember, the poor are not the ones to blame, but the rich elites, for they are the ones who created the conditions for what happens next.

[1] Veronica Ogbe, “Homeless Citizens To Face Fines Or Community Service If Bill Is Signed Into Law” in WATE.Com (4-15-2022).

[2] Ashley Balcerzak, “It’s Tough For NJ’s Homeless To Get IDs. But To Access Vital Services, They Must Show IDs” in NorthJersey.Com (4-20-2022).

[3] Hannah Wiley, “Opposition Mounts Against Newsom’s Plan For Court-ordered Treatment Of Homeless People” in Yahoo News (4-19-2022).

[4] Origen, Homilies on the Psalms: Codex Monacensis Graecus 314. Trans. Joseph W. Trigg (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2020), 445 [Homily Psalm 81].

[5] St. Photius, The Homilies of Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople. Trans. Cyril Mango (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1958; repr. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 61 [Homily 2].

[6] St Sophronios of Jerusalem, “Homily 2: Homily on the Divine Birthday oof the Savior Falling on a Holy Sunday and on the Disorder and Destructive Insurrection of the Saracens”  in Homilies. Trans. John M. Duffy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020), 37.

[7] Moralia et Ascetica Armeniaca: The Oft-Repeated Discourses. Trans. Abraham Terian (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2021), 124 [Discourse 7].

[8] Moralia et Ascetica Armeniaca: The Oft-Repeated Discourses, 207-8 [Discourse 13].

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