Out of the corner of my eye I saw him crossing the street. I knew right away what was happening, and I was not an enthusiastic participant. I was in the process of loading my car after finishing our South District Christmas party. It was no surprise when he walked up to me and said that he was homeless. He wanted to know if I could help him get something to eat. How do we respond to a request like this?
I would like to say that I immediately responded with generosity, but that is not the truth. My first response was that I wasn’t the pastor of this church, but I was sure that if he went to the office they would be able to help him. As I said this, I remembered that I had some McDonald’s gift cards in the car. Was that the right answer? I was a little bit slow, but it finally hit me what I was supposed to do. We had just finished having a wonderful Christmas lunch, and there was food left. He told me that he was thinking maybe he could get something at McDonald’s, and I told him that I could do better than that. I invited him to follow me, and we would be able to give him some lunch.
The food had already been put away when we walked into the fellowship hall. I was impressed that those who were taking care of the food did not hesitate to bring it back out. By this time, he was no longer a nameless homeless man. This was Carl. I introduced Carl to those who were in the fellowship hall, and we made sure that he had everything that he needed for his lunch. Then I went back to packing up my stuff and getting ready for my next meeting.
As I looked across the fellowship hall, I watched Carl eating by himself. I suddenly realized that the most important thing that I could do at that moment was to go and sit with Carl. As we visited, I heard a small piece of Carl’s story. I would guess that Carl is in his early twenties, though I have never been very good at guessing ages. He had only been homeless for two weeks, and at times he was able to stay with other people. Carl was trying hard to get a job. He had visited about a hundred businesses asking for work. Most of them said that he needed to apply on-line. Is that a problem for someone who is homeless? There was a place, however, where he could use their computer. Just that day Carl had put in twenty applications. Carl finished his lunch and said that he needed to hurry and go to an appointment.
One of the pastors of the church told Carl that if he had time to stop by the church office, he could get a snack pack for later. After he was already gone, I realized that there was more in my power that I could have done. The easiest would have been to give him some of the gift cards from my car. He would likely get hungry later. The bigger investment would have been to find a way to contact Carl, and to help him get a job. My take-away for the day was to remember to see people as people. This is what I want for myself, and what I want to give to others. When we label people without even taking the time to get to know them, we take away some of their humanity. We also risk missing a blessing.
I wonder who were the people that helped Mary and Joseph after they arrived in Bethlehem? It would have been obvious that Mary was close to delivering her baby. How many people said that someone else would have to help them? Who finally said “Come, and follow me”? Was it a relative? A stranger? What would we have done if it had been us that Mary and Joseph had approached for help?
This baby named Jesus grew up and taught all who would listen. Here is one of his teachings:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”Matthew 25:31-46 NRSV
Jesus has a way of reminding us of who we are called to be, and what we are called to do. Sometimes it is hard in the moment to remember what Jesus has taught us. Will we respond when the opportunities happen?
Your brother on the journey, Mark