The Homeless Man And The Bare Minimum
A few weeks ago my family headed to a local bakery for coffee and a sugary breakfast; it was our Sabbath and we were together, so there was no hurry, even when the drizzle started.
I was the first to reach the entrance and noticed him leaning against the brick wall with a smile on his face, as though the official greeter. He sat far enough away from the doors to not be a nuisance, but his presence was unavoidable. He excitedly greeted my children, who were perplexed at why this older man was sitting on the ground. Even when his smiled widened, I failed to notice what was missing.
We entered, and stood staring up at the menu when both my husband and I looked at each other and he mouthed, “we should get him something.” I replied with, “okay, ask him what he wants” and continued ordering while my husband dashed out the door. He returned with the detail I missed earlier: the man was toothless and wanted only a coffee. Face palm.
Our food arrived and my husband reached for the hand of my oldest. Together they stepped back outside to give the man his coffee. We happily enjoyed our breakfast and left shortly after. As we stepped outside the man was throwing his leg over a bicycle, heavily laden with bags, tarps and bungee-cords. He smiled and waved to us a “blessing” before peddling off.
As we drove away I couldn’t shake the growing feeling that we had missed an opportunity. I sat there trying to justify my actions with the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 10:42, “suppose someone gives even a cup of cold water (and I added “a cup of hot coffee”) to a little one…that person will certainly be rewarded.” Religious/good deed for the day complete: check. The inner dialogue continued, “Malinda, you should be proud of yourself. There was a day when you would not have offered the man anything. You did a good thing today.”
Suddenly my husband’s voice broke through my inner debate with, “babe, are you ok?” I stared out the window and then murmured, “I think we missed it.” Tears filled my eyes as I quietly explained:
We missed the opportunity to show our kids not just kindness in action, but what it means to offer someone dignity and respect. We had an open door to teach them how Jesus would have treated that man, and model for them what it means to love another human being, but we didn’t. We did the bare minimum.
We bought a toothless man a coffee, check. We modeled our good deed for our kids, check. We experienced religious pride when our deed was done, check. Friend, I wish I could tell you that we flipped a u-turn and went searching for that man. It pains me to admit that we didn’t. We didn’t find him and spend the rest of the day tending to his needs and loving him towards Jesus. The truth is, that man helped me see the Jesus of the Gospel in a whole new way.
Jesus would have invited the man sitting outside on the damp sidewalk to join him at a table for breakfast. “Coffee? Ok, but can I get you a smoothie, or some hot soup as well?” And if the man resisted coming inside, then Jesus would have taken his meal outside and sat down next to him on the ground. Jesus would have stared into the man’s eyes and, after learning his name, would have listened to his story. Jesus would have asked what his greatest need was, and then taken care of it, immediately and then some. Jesus would not have “shown kindness” in order to “show him that Christians care,” but just because of His love for that man. His love that is deep and relentless and not at all concerned with whether the man believes, accepts it, or is grateful for His love.
For weeks I have thought of this encounter; we don’t see the homeless very often in our suburban oasis (honestly, I am more likely to run into one of the OC Housewives). He has haunted my thoughts and stirred my prayers.
I wish I could tell you that I usually get it right— but I don’t. For every time thatI feel like I do, there are equally as many times thatI get it wrong.
But I do know that this squeezing of my heart, this knowledge about what it means to love others and treat them as Jesus would, is not something that I can turn off or ignore. I can only pray that when the next opportunity arrises I am ready and willing to respond the way I know I should. Regardless of what I think I know about the person in front of me, or how I think they will respond to my words or actions, or what they may or may not do with my offerings.
Friends, the tears are pouring as I consider all that I could have offered that man. And I am coming undone at the thought of living my entire life by offering the bare minimum.
I want to be completely engaged, fully poured out and then finally empty.
I want my kids to know what “sacrificial giving and living” looks like, not because I have told them a story, but because they see it in the everyday life we live. I want them to know what the life and love of Jesus is, not because we read it in a story book, but because they feel a tangible presence in our lives. I want that knowledge to stir us up and cut us so deeply that we have no choice but to live our lives different, desperate, decided. I don’t want our faith to be minimized into a list of check boxes, calculated efforts and guilt.
I want a life that if fuller friends; that’s why I’m here. I hope it’s why you are too.