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.
(Matthew 25.34-36, NRSV)
It is possible that there isn’t any passage in the Bible that makes me more uncomfortable than Matthew 25.31-46. On a typical work day, I begin my morning in my house in suburbia, safely isolated from the world’s pains. At the appropriate time, my garage door goes up, I pull out in my car, close the door remotely, and drive to work. Once at work, I show my ID to a guard at the guardhouse, and drive through the gate and into a fenced-off research campus. I carry out this process in reverse when it is time to go home, and I tuck myself safely into the garage once more. Everything is clean and sterile. Not once do I have to deal with anyone else’s reality. For all I know, the whole world is middle class.
To be honest, I don’t know how to live with this.
Four years ago, the biennial Mennonite convention was in Charlotte. One evening, my family and my in-laws were walking back from supper, when we were approached by a man named Ronnie asking for money. I excused myself from my family and spent some time talking with him. Ronnie was intoxicated at the time, and freely admitted that he wanted money for another drink. I told him that I wasn’t willing to get that for him, but that I’d buy him a meal. After about a half hour, I guess he figured he wasn’t going to get money, so he took me up on the offer of a meal and told me that he’d really like some fried oysters. Since I didn’t know the city well enough, he showed me where to buy some. I got him some cole slaw and OJ, as well. He also said that if I could find him additional help, he’d be willing to receive it.
After a few conversations with local people, I got in touch with Paul Hanneman at the Urban Ministry Center. Yes – he knew Ronnie, and yes – they’d be pleased to work with him if he made his way to their center. He also invited me to stop by for a visit.
I never was able to find Ronnie again, and when I visited later with Paul, he wasn’t particularly surprised. “This story,” he said, “may be more about what God is doing in your life than in his.”
This year in Columbus, I was again approached by someone on the street, and I immediately offered a meal again. The gentleman accepted, and I decided that I needed to include something special. We were right beside the North Market, so I dashed inside and bought a sandwich, chips, and a drink. For dessert, I got a little box of truffles from Pure Imagination Choclatier. I guess I took too long. When I tried to find the man again, he had moved on. So I did a bit more searching and was able to share with another brother with a warm smile.
Again, I think that this story probably has more to do with God working in my heart, than with any good that I’ve done.
I was inspired to share my stories, because Cindy Miller is also sharing hers. In the current issue of The Mennonite, she talks about a reunion that she recently had with a man named Ken, who she had met two years ago during the Mennonite Convention in San Jose. I was glad to see that others have some of the same struggles and questions that I have. I’ll conclude this blog with some of her thoughts…
What would Jesus do? Would he just give them money? Though it is much easier to just hand them a dollar bill and walk past, I instead take the time to go find food with and for them.
Two things happen when I do this. One, I don’t feel used when I wonder if my money is going to a chemical addiction. Two, I spend a moment of quality time with a person who may well be starved for respect from society. That’s what I believe Jesus would do.