Love is not for the worthy (That video about the shopkeeper and the homeless man)

Ethics Social Issues Theology / Biblical Studies

You might have seen this video being circulated on social media lately, about a shopkeeper and a homeless man:

This does not sit right with me. In fact as far as reasons go for treating homeless people better, this is terrible.

Sure, there’s something moving about it. A guy is mean to a homeless man who he finds regularly sleeping outside his store each morning. Eventually the homeless man dies, and on reviewing the security footage, the shopkeeper discovers that the homeless man had actually been helping him by doing things like keeping the area tidy and chasing off hooligans and thieves. He died because he was defending the store when a potential robber stabbed him. The shopkeeper assumed the worst without really knowing the guy, and his conscience is pricked when he finds out.

Love is not about treating people well because they have been good enough to us to earn our favour.

That’s all very nice. His conscience should be pricked. He was unkind. If the upshot of people watching this video is that they act more kindly, then that’s great. The video is an advertisement for a security camera. If only you could see more! Here’s a camera so that you can see more. But not many people will think about buying the camera when watching this. They will think: Yeah, the homeless guy was actually a good person and did a lot to help the shopkeeper. He deserved better. If the shopkeeper had really known how helpful that guy was, he would have treated him better.
I don’t want to be the guy who kills that warm fuzzy feeling, but that is exactly what the Christian concept of love is not like. Love is not about treating people well because they have been good enough to us to earn our favour. Love – the kind of love that God through the Gospel shows to us – is about treating people with kindness and goodness even if they don’t deserve it, no, especially if they don’t deserve it. God’s “security camera” of omniscience sees everything we do, and it’s not all that pretty, but having compassion on us in spite of that is exactly what distinguishes real love from a system of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

It would have been a far better illustration of love if the shopkeeper had discovered this man breaking into his store, and offered to give him what he needed for free because he was hungry and cold.

The message here is all wrong. The shopkeeper should not have refrained from tipping water over this homeless man, swearing at him out and chasing him away because he lacked the full story (namely, the story of how good this man really was and how he had helped the shopkeeper). What if he had watched the video and seen that the homeless guy just slept there and occasionally smoked weed? Should the shopkeeper then have said to himself, “Ah-ha! So I was right after all”? No. Instead he should have refrained from treating this man like garbage because here, lying on the ground in front of him, was a human being in need, somebody made in God’s image, the “least of these,” to borrow a phrase from Jesus, and because showing love and compassion to him reflects God’s love and compassion for us. In fact it would have been a far better illustration of love if the shopkeeper had discovered this man breaking into his store, and offered to give him what he needed for free because he was hungry and cold.

The shopkeeper shouldn’t feel terrible because of what the security camera showed him. He should have felt bad because it took a case that this poor man “deserved” help to realise that he had acted wrongly.

In the spirit of social media – Like and share if you agree!

Glenn Peoples

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • John August 30, 2015, 5:22 pm

    ” especially if they don’t deserve it.”

    No, not especially. Love your enemy is a part of Christianity but it’s not a command to love those who treat us poorly better than we treat those who treat us well, nor is it a command to prioritze treating well those who treat us poorly over those who treat us well.

  • Glenn August 30, 2015, 6:21 pm

    Yes, especially those who don’t deserve it. Those are more loving actions than those we do for those who have earned them. Jesus said that even hypocrites do the latter.

  • lotharson August 31, 2015, 9:55 am

    That’s a very poignant post, Glenn.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46″For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

    Christ makes it very clear that we must make a difference in the way we love each others and all our neighbors, including even our foes.

    And yet, most Christians find it perfectly okay to despise those toward whom they only feel contempt.
    They find it perfectly acceptable to refuse to pardon other Christians who are sincerely asking them for forgiveness.

    Many Conservative Christians are very keen to defend the foundations of their faith.
    Many progressive Christians are very engaged in the promotion of social justice issues.

    And at the same time the same individuals despise the weird and socially akward and completely fail to act in a humble and loving way in their relationships.

    Of course, there are a few people in both camps who realise that Love stands at the very heart of Christ’s ministry and they genuinely try to act accordingly.

    But they seem to be very rare, alas.

    Otherwise, do you believe that in the parable of the sheep and the goats Christ used the phrase “the least of them” in a universal manner?
    I heard some people arguing that this actually must refer to Christian missionaries.
    I’d be very interested to learn your take on that.

    I’ve a last question: would you allow me to cite some passages of your awesome post while linking to it?
    If not, I shall try to summarise your main points.

    Best wishes from England.

  • John August 31, 2015, 12:57 pm

    “Yes, especially those who don’t deserve it. Those are more loving actions than those we do for those who have earned them. Jesus said that even hypocrites do the latter.”

    Jesus said that because it used to be, up until the last few decades or so, the norm, even among the worst of people, to love your friends. The statement was meant to extend love beyond that, not to prioritize your enemies under the absurd notion that if you care more about your enemies than about your friends you will do better in the eyes of God (you won’t, just ask Judas).

    “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

    Laying down one’s life for one’s FRIENDS is the greatest love. Not laying down one’s life for one’s enemies (or even strangers). Jesus didn’t lay down His life for Satan, He laid it down for His followers (which were, at the time, literally His friends). Jesus took the friendly thief to heaven, but not the one who didn’t think much of Him. Jesus asked the Father to forgive the Romans who crucified Him because they were ignorant, but those who were not ignorant (like Judas or the Pharisees) received no such prayer. When Jesus said to love your enemy it was meant to push love into enemy territory. What you are suggesting is doing the opposite, which is to push it backwards into treason.

  • Glenn August 31, 2015, 9:47 pm

    John, do you agree with me that it’s more loving to do good for people who don’t deserve it than to do good for those who have earned it?

  • Dan September 8, 2015, 7:36 am

    Link is broken. Your description is great though. And the post is spot on.

  • Nathan September 10, 2015, 1:41 am

  • Glenn September 19, 2015, 9:03 pm

    Thanks – I’ve removed the broken link and updated it now.

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