I was driving in a not-so-great part of town one Saturday morning when I made eye contact with him – a homeless black man wearing far too many clothes for an already-humid summer morning. He was sitting in front of an abandoned furniture store and as I passed him, he looked directly into my eyes. He was one of those people with no place to go – people we see but we don’t really see. A few minutes later I felt an inaudible voice inside me say, “Go back and help.” I thought about it for a second. I even remembered I found a five dollar bill in the dryer before I left the house and I considered it a bonus. But I kept driving. I had stuff to do. “Go back and help.” There it was again. I started making excuses in my head. He’s probably gone now, I thought. That was like three blocks ago and this road is too hard to turn around on. What I was really saying is, “God, find someone else.” Then I felt questions: Are you really who you say you are? What if that homeless man was Jesus? Do you really want Him to play back that recording for you someday?
“Dammit!” I said in a huff as I turned the car around.
The man watched me as I pulled up next to him and nervously got out of my car. He didn’t get up as I walked toward him, but he took off his winter cap and smiled. “Good morning,” I said thinking that was a lame thing to say. Is it really a good morning when someone wakes up homeless? “Hey, I found this money this morning and I thought you might need it.” His smile grew bigger and he said, “Oh good, now I can get something to eat. Thanks, buddy.” The eyes that pierced me in the car were much better close up; they were kind and deep like a storybook with a ton to share. Still I wanted to run from him. “God bless you,” I said feeling that was even more lame than ‘good morning.’ And I got back to my car and left him.
You might think I was feeling pretty good about myself. You might think, What a great guy. What a model Christian. You’d be wrong.
I got back to my house and I started mowing my lawn. I couldn’t shake that man’s eyes. I wondered what happened in his life; how he ended up on the streets. I wondered what it was like to not know whether you’re going to eat that day. I didn’t feel good about giving him the five dollars I found in the dryer because I left the twenty I saw in my wallet before I stepped out of my car. Why did I leave the greater portion for me? Why was I in such a hurry to get away from him? Why didn’t I at least ask him his name? And worse, why didn’t I tell him about Jesus?
Penn Jillette, the magician, comedian, and well-known atheist often says he doesn’t respect Christians who don’t tell people about God. “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Jillette says.
Overstated? Perhaps, but he makes a point.
Of course I didn’t hate that man, but I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want to give him all I had. And worst of all, I didn’t want to tell him about the God who changed my life.
Maybe I have come a long way in my faith. Maybe I am a better man than I once was. But on this Saturday morning I learned I have a long way to go.
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