Last September, I saw a group of raggedy, disheveled men in front of the grocery store. They were holding signs asking for food. So while I was buying my groceries, I slipped in a couple sandwiches in my basket. After shopping, I chatted with the men, and played with their dog, as they ate their sandwiches. When they were done I got in my car and began to drive home feeling pretty good about myself.
About a minute and a half later, I stopped at a red light. There was a man standing on the corner with a tattered cardboard sign. Still feeling pretty good about myself, I said, “Good afternoon.”
He stared at me a minute, grunted, and then said in a stern commanding voice, “I’m hungry. Give me some money.”
For a second I was taken aback by his brusqueness. Then replied, “No.”
He maintained eye contact for a few seconds, looked down and said, “Ok.” Then he walked down the street holding his sign for the other stopped vehicles.
I didn’t feel bad about not giving him money. Actually, I felt pretty good. I had fed some homeless people, maintained boundaries, and even provided a “lesson” to a guy on how not to talk to people. I even bragged about the event to my wife.
But as the weeks and months passed, I haven’t been able to get that interaction out of my head. Through my reflection, I’ve become convinced that I had missed something… I missed Jesus. In my refusal, my dismissal, of this image-of-God bearing person, I turned away Jesus.
“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.’—Matthew 25:45-46
This is where my New Year’s resolution comes in: I want to see Jesus.
When I turned away that bum on the street, I was turning away Jesus. I didn’t recognize him. He was in disguise. He was rude and easy to dismiss but
if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? —Matthew 5:46-7
I don’t know what this looks like. I’m not trying to fix poverty, though that maybe a noble(r) goal. I don’t have the resources to give to every person I see in need. As I’ve stated before, homelessness is a relationship issue as much as it is a resource issue. But as the New Year is here, I admit I need Jesus. I need him, so I need that rude homeless guy to teach me about what love looks like in the flesh. It’s not about me giving money or food or anything—it’s about my need for a God in human skin.
So this year– my goal, my hope, and my prayer is for the Holy Spirit to equip and enable me to see Jesus, to learn from him, to walk with him, and to love him.