I normally receive very few early morning knocks on the door or rings of the doorbell.
However, I was awakened abruptly early one morning when I heard the door bell ring, not once, not twice but three times. Half asleep I tackled the stairs and opening the door I was greeted by the smell of drink. I wasn’t too sympathetic to the man who stood there as he spun me a sad story of hunger and homelessness. I was so wrapped up in my own anger at being disturbed early in the morning and worried about how much the call was going to cost me, I was far from civil. I dismissed him after begrudgingly giving him money, more to get rid of him than any great desire to help.
Needless to say the man had a thick skin because he wasn’t put off and called back a few days later with the same story. I told him I didn’t want to hear any sad stories and gave him some more money, again more in an effort to move him on. With the lingering smell of drink I had simply labelled and condemned the man as an alcoholic, took very little notice of him as a human being and, taking the high moral ground, summed his actions up as an attempt to feed his addiction.
To be honest, I thought no more about the incidents until I was talking with the Church of Ireland chaplain in Altnagelvin Hospital. He told me of one encounter at a clinic on the Gransha site after a patient asked to speak with the chaplain. In the course of the conversation the patient explained how most people had dismissed him as an alcoholic. Yet the person knew deep in his heart he was loved as a child of God. The man knew, like all his fellow brothers and sisters that he still shared in the deep dignity of being a human person, only he was struggling to cope with an alcohol addiction. I felt rightly ashamed by my own actions in the light of the story.
How many people do we try to dispossess and chase away from God’s vineyard. How many men or women do we beat, stone or abuse through our labels and condemnations. Often we’re more concerned about building higher walls around the Church and we fail to see how our actions and attitudes are in danger of having us evicted from God’s Kingdom. We have been called to celebrate the Gospel of life, we’re asked to respect the dignity and worth of every human life from conception to natural death. We do so through the way we treat and speak to one another.
Rather than excluding, the challenge as God’s people is to reach out and offer a helping hand so all our brothers and sisters can live a full life regardless of their addictions, faults, or past lives. In God’s vineyard may we be slow to judge or condemn others. Instead, may we follow the example of Christ and the saints by being generous and courageous enough to accept those who are struggling with life and offer a hand of support, recognising them as brothers and sisters in Christ.