Last night, my family and I went downtown to watch a professional basketball game. As we neared the arena’s entrance, a woman with a sign explaining that she had no home and no recourse sat quietly on the side of the street.
I handed her the $2 I had in my wallet and wished her well. She returned the well wishes.
It was a simple exchange, not an all together uncommon one. But today, I have been reflecting on it more than usual, in light of a thought that struck me recently.
In church on Sunday, we talked about the importance of caring for the poor. The emphasis of the lesson was on the temporal, more practical elements of helping those in need — and, indeed, those are important elements. But one thought kept returning to me again and again, more along the lines of the spiritual: when we see physical need in others, it is merely an external manifestation of an inner need we all carry.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said. ”Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the hungry and thirsty.” Terryl and Fiona Givens’ gorgeous new book, The God Who Weeps, argues that what makes God great is His infinite compassion, His deep sorrow at our sorrows — in short, His vulnerability.
When Christ was born, He wasn’t born in a palace. He didn’t rule as King. He was homeless, just as the woman I encountered yesterday: “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” He lamented once. He died alone, forsaken, betrayed by his closest friends, dependent upon the kindness of others to quench His thirst with vinegar and to provide a proper burial.
When I looked into the face of that woman last night, I was looking into my own face. Perhaps more importantly, I was looking into the face of God.
Are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
It’s easy to feel superior, even stingy, when we encounter people who have few worldly possessions — perhaps even because of serious mistakes they have made. They have brought it upon themselves, right? Thank God He doesn’t turn away from us when we bring sorrow upon ourselves, but outstretches His hand over and over and over again.
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. …
And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
This holiday season and at all times of the year, may we reach out to those who have need, in honor of our own need that God meets daily.
[See all the Encounters guest posts here.]
For the next 3 weeks (through Friday, December 21, 2012), we’d love for you to share any encounters you’ve had. Selected submissions will be published on Doves & Serpents. Submissions should be sent to guest firstname.lastname@example.org (please see our guest post guide).