The day the first homeless man moved in, Ben felt God. The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself, a commandment Ben had never fulfilled. But now that his children had no time for him and his ex-wife was living in sin on a yacht with her lover, what good was his three-bedroom house? The redhead in the Carhartt coveralls had been sleeping on the bench at the bus stop for years and while Ben had always had a sympathetic smile for him, he had never offered more than that.
The redhead didn’t seem to grasp was Ben was telling him. Only when Ben handed him the spare keys did he nod his acknowledgement of the offer and tentatively stand up from the bench. Once inside the still house, he sat down on the bed where Ben’s daughter used to sleep and then whispered thank you.
When Ben approached the next man, he brought the redhead with him. He thought the presence of a converted man would lend an air of credibility to his mission. This lost soul had a dog. Ben twitched involuntarily at the thought of fleas in the house his wife had so dutifully maintained before deciding that even if cleanliness was next to godliness, neither could compete with worldly pleasures. Then Ben remembered God also said a righteous man has regard for the lives of animals. So the man and the dog moved in, and each morning as Ben made eggs and bacon for their cozy foursome, he knew God loved him more.
A few weeks later, Ben returned home to find a woman and two small children in the kitchen playing with the dog. There had been no vacancy at the shelter. Ben understood that the streets were especially unsafe for women and children, so it would be better if they moved into the house. That evening, he read stories to the children from the same picture Bible he had read to his children from. A great sense of familial love, denied him long before his wicked wife left, radiated through the house and he decided that the children should sleep in his bed. Ben took the couch in the living room.
Soon Ben realized that his Social Security checks weren’t enough to keep the pantry full. He gathered the adults in the kitchen to discuss the possibility of them finding employment. When he reminded them that God helps those who help themselves, they reminded him that God commands his people to be generous to the poor and needy. Besides, the redhead’s IQ was so high that he was incapable of doing repetitive work. The man with the dog had lost a finger in a farming accident and therefore couldn’t fill out any job applications. The woman had a crippling embarrassment of using public restrooms. Ben listened, lovingly, and understood that he couldn’t possibly expect them to work. Not when they had such hardships. But he didn’t want his flock to worry about their welfare, so he decided he would cut back on nights at the bingo hall.
The following week, another man and two more dogs appeared. Ben thought the house was really too crowded now, but then he reread the story of Jesus multiplying the fishes and loaves of bread to feed the multitude, and he knew he couldn’t turn the newcomers out.
But that night, curled up on some towels on the floor of the laundry room, Ben didn’t sleep very well. One of the dogs slept next to him, and when Ben woke suddenly from the fleas that were nipping his ankles, he frightened the dog. It barked, which brought the other two dogs running and a ruckus ensued. The next morning, Ben’s proposal to build doghouses and keep the dogs in the yard was met with a chorus of refusal. What injustice – expecting the dogs to sleep outdoors! The lodgers determined that Ben needed to walk a mile in their shoes. Surely God had come up with that adage too.
As Ben looked for a safe alley to sleep in that night, removed from the house where hatred of his ex-wife had once nearly destroyed him, he knew his loving shepherd was watching over him. Even when the kid slid the knife into his abdomen as Ben tried to stop him from stealing his wallet, Ben mistook the warmth of his own blood spilling over his torso for the arms of his heavenly father carrying him to eternal paradise.