The Homeless Man and the Apartment - A Parable

There was a homeless man that lived on the streets. His life was hard, every day filled with the struggle to survive. He sought for food in trash cans, took shelter in places unequipped to keep out the elements and dodged the dangers that are natural to this lifestyle. He slept on the ground, ate what he found, and had no one to lean on. His physical needs were only surpassed by his psychological and mental needs, constantly combatting depression and aching loneliness. 

One day a man walked in front of him on the street, as thousands had done before. Usually he could see the feet and legs of busy individuals going to their busy lives, paying no attention to him. He would get a dollar or two here and there dropped at his feet, but mostly he was as noticeable as a trash can or a light fixture. Swerving around him, person after person seemed to not realize he was a person. But not this day. 

The man walking in front of him stopped. It took the homeless man a minute to recognize this set of legs was stopped and turned toward him. Looking up he saw a man in nice clothes, clean, with a smile on his face. He even reached down a hand to toward him as if he wanted to shake hands. The homeless man didn't reciprocate, not believing anyone would want to greet him in this way. But after an awkward moment, he reached out his hand. 

His grip was firm but kind. He spoke with confidence and a welcoming voice. He stated his name and wanted to know about the homeless man and his story. Unsure of what was happening the homeless man hesitantly talked with him, sharing his life story, even if in a very brief way. Hearing the homeless man’s story, the man told him he had something for him and he wanted him to come with him. The homeless man set aside his reservations and rose to follow the man. 

To his surprise they took three or four steps and entered the building the homeless man had spent so much of his time sitting against. "Did you know this is a luxury apartment building you have been sitting in front of?" said the man. "No I didn't" said the homeless man. "Well it is, and I am the owner of the building." "I have seen you sitting in front of the building often and I have decided to do something for you." Not sure what was going on, whether it was good or bad, the homeless man responded "Do something for me?" 

"Yes. I am going to give you one of these apartments to live in. It is fully furnished, and has everything you need. As well, I am going to give you a job in this building to help with maintenance. I have also had the refrigerator and cupboard stocked with food for you, as well as the closet filled with clothes and shoes. You should have everything you need from now on." 

Staring at the polished bronze door of the elevator as each of the floors dinged by, the homeless man heard the words that were coming from the man. But they didn't make sense. There was no thank you or outward show of excitement, instead silence. The doors to the elevator opened and the two men entered into a beautiful apartment. It was just as the man said, a beautiful apartment filled with unbelievable things. Couches, chairs,  a dinner table, shelves filled with dishes and a cupboard filled with food. A bed room with a large soft bed and a gorgeous bathroom. 

The homeless man, following his new found benefactor, silently roamed the apartment, saying nothing. Seeing the obvious shock of the situation, the man allowed the homeless man to take it all in. “Here is your key, it is now yours. I will have my lawyer stop by later to have you sign the appropriate paper work, but other than that…welcome home.” The homeless man still said nothing, looking at the ground not even making eye contact with the man. “Expect a call from the building manager in the next few days, after you get settled, and he will talk to you about your job. He is excited to see what talents you might have to pitch in around here. If you don’t want the job it is up to you. But I wanted to give you an opportunity. Regardless this apartment is yours.” There was still silence. After waiting a few quiet minutes, the man finally said his goodbye and left the homeless man by himself in his new home. 

The next day the building owner was walking again on the street in front of his luxury apartment building. As he crossed the street to enter the building he saw something that stopped him in his tracks. There in the same spot was the homeless man, sitting as he did before, leaned against the building. The man approached him and stopped in front of him. “Was there a problem with the apartment?” he asked. Squinting his eyes to look up at the generous man, the homeless man seeing his attempted patron answered “No. The apartment is fine.” “Then why are you back sitting here?” asked the man. The homeless man’s answer didn’t come quickly, but was given as if much thought had been put into it. “I think I am just more comfortable here”, he said. 

Perplexed the building owner responded quickly with “how can that be? I furnished that apartment with the best furniture, beds and amenities. You have soft chairs to sit on, a bed to sleep in, a bathroom to refresh in. How can this hard sidewalk be more comfortable?” The homeless man answered in a matter of fact way that revealed he truly believed what he was about to say. “This is who I am, that apartment isn’t who I am.” Immediately the owner realized what was happening. This homeless man had spent so much time living on the street, struggling to live, sleeping in allies, surviving on the things the people around him threw away, that he truly believed this is who he was created to be. 

Slowly walking away feeling like he had failed, the building owner came to an idea. He turned and walked back to the homeless man. “Well would you have breakfast with me this morning? I can at least provide you with a meal.” The homeless said yes, and the two walked back into the building, rode the elevator, and went into the previously offered apartment. The building manager rolled up his sleeves and cooked a borderline feast for breakfast, setting the table as if he was entertaining a dignitary. The two men sat at this expensive dining room table, in this expensive apartment and ate together. After the meal, the homeless man said thank you and went back to his spot, leaning against the building outside. 

The next day the owner of the building came back to the homeless man and again asked if he would have breakfast. He said yes, and again the two men entered the luxurious building and rode to the same apartment. The owner cooked another amazing breakfast and the two men ate. The homeless man thanked him as he had done before, left the apartment and went back outside to his spot.

Every day for two weeks this same strange morning routine played itself out with out much of any change other than the breakfast menu. Until one day something different happened. Finishing the meal, instead of thanking the owner and immediately leaving, the homeless man asked if it would be ok to use the shower in the apartment to clean up before he left. The owner quickly responded with, “Its your apartment, use whatever you want.” The homeless man took a long shower enjoying every minute of the experience, then put his old clothes on, thanked the building owner, and went back to his spot. 

The generous benefactor continued to every day invite the homeless man to leave his spot on the sidewalk to the apartment he had given him for a breakfast by his own hands. Usually it would be the same thing, where the homeless man would eat, thank him and return outside. But more and more the building owner noticed the man would ask to take a shower. Then one day something else happened. Having just finished his meal the homeless man said, “I didn’t sleep very well last night. It rained on me all night and that cardboard doesn’t keep out the wet. Would it be Ok if I took a quick nap on the couch before I leave?” “It is your apartment", said the building owner, "you can do what you want?” The homeless man stretched out on the expensive couch and before long was asleep. The owner left him there to rest. 

The next morning the homeless man was again in his spot outside, and the routine played out again. Day after day the two men would enter the building, ride the elevator, and share breakfast in the apartment. But something very interesting was happening. More and more the homeless man would stay longer in the apartment and partake of all that it had to offer. One day he would decide to watch some tv and rest in the comfortable chair. Another day he would sit on the balcony and watch the traffic for a while. There was one day he decided to use the washer and dryer to wash his clothes. He even began to wear some of the new clothes that were hanging in the closet, if even only a piece at a time. Something was changing. 

And then it happened. It was a morning just like any other, except it wasn’t. The building owner decided to stop and pick up some bagels and coffee for him and his regular breakfast partner, walked his normal route to the building he owned, and once again like before was stopped in his tracks in the middle of the street. He nearly dropped his coffee. Looking at that same spot where his new friend had been sitting all of those mornings before, he saw something different. Nothing. No one. He wasn’t there. 

For the first time in a long time he rode the elevator alone to the same floor and went to the door of the apartment. Before he knocked he just stood silently and listened as he could hear life within. The clanging of a spatula on a pan, the opening and shutting of the refrigerator. He could smell that there was something being cooked. With a smile on his face, he knocked. The homeless man answered the door, clean shaved, wearing clothes that weren’t torn and an apron that showed signs of cooking. The two men paused for a second looked at each other and the man in the apron said. “Come in. Welcome to my home.” 

 

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Benjamin Thomas

Husband and father of 4. Founding and Lead Pastor of Nehemiah Project Church in Avon Indiana. Academic Chaplain at Indiana Wesleyan University. Adjunct Professor of Spiritual Formation at Wesley Biblical Seminary.