Heading back home after a week in Florida, we made an overnight stop in Nashville. The weather was beautiful this morning, so after a short run along the river, I grabbed my Bible and a cup of coffee to go outside and read.
We are staying just a few blocks from the courthouse and public square, so I set off to find a bench in the sun overlooking the river. I found a row of benches, all empty, except for one. There was a (probably homeless) man sleeping on one of the benches. My choices, if I wanted to sit facing the river, were the one next to him or to walk past him to achieve at least a one-bench buffer.
Or I could walk away.
I sat down on the first bench and opened my morning devotional. As I sat there reading, I kept thinking about the man sitting to my left. Here it is, Easter weekend and I’m reading my Bible, should I go over to talk with him?
But I didn’t want to talk with him.
It is Saturday morning and there are a number of runners and walkers around, so I feel safe. But what would I talk with him about? If you know me, you know I’m not good at small talk.
Does he even want to be approached? If he is actually sleeping, he may want to stay asleep. If he’s awake, he doesn’t necessarily want to talk to me. He’s probably used to being ignored. Maybe he’s ignoring me – or doesn’t even realize I’m there. I would think that if you are usually ignored or avoided, you would learn to ignore as well.
Why do I think I should talk with him? Is it to make me feel better about not being homeless? Is it because it seems the Christian thing to do – to acknowledge our mutual humanity? Has he looked over to see that it’s the Bible I’m reading? Is he judging me?
Do I have anything to offer him? I think about what’s in my bag: a Vitamin Water I’ve already taken a drink of and trail mix. The nuts in the trail mix would probably be a problem.
I didn’t approach the man. Without making assumptions based on my world view and perspective, I decided I would be impinging on his right to privacy and personal space – and the humanity we share. This is, of course, also the easy way out because talking with him would have been uncomfortable for me.
I wonder, what is the Gospel here?
“The love and the suffering are not separate, but love overcomes suffering because it is more deeply rooted in the nature of what God has created. ‘For the pain was a deed done in time by the working of love, but [Christ’s] love was without beginning, and is and ever shall be without any end.’” – Helen Julian quoting Julian of Norwich in The Road to Emmaus.
As I’m reading in my devotion about Julian of Norwich’s desire to better comprehend Christ’s suffering on the cross, I wonder what suffering I’m choosing to stay away from. This man was probably hungry, since it was 8:30 in the morning. Matthew 25 kept running through my head: Is this Christ that I am not feeding, bringing water, or visiting? Is this Christ who is suffering?
I don’t know.
I decided to pray for him and the others I had seen sleeping on benches or steps during my run. But honestly, this felt like the easy way out, too.
I can’t “do” Christ to people. Some may say that I had the Gospel to offer him, but this assumes that God is not already acting in his life. I’ve had the privilege several times of sharing a bag lunch and Bible study at a homeless shelter in Milwaukee. Each time, I was a humbled by the trust many shared and their willingness to invite random people from the suburbs to pray with them. Certainly, they were Christ to me.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. – Acts 2:44-45 (NRSV)
The Greek word for “in common” is κοινος – the root for κοινωνια, or communion. I think what Jesus is calling me to this Holy Saturday is communion. What I’m left with is the desire to know my brother and sister well enough to know their needs. I’m working on being willing to offer anything I have to meet those needs. I want to learn how to be in a mutual relationship where I acknowledge the needs I have – that sometimes I might be the least – and allow others to provide for me.
This communion-thing that Christ achieved in his incarnation, life, death and resurrection is a mystery to me. It has both suffering and love. I don’t think we can experience one without the other and find true communion with Christ and with one another.Jesus, teach me what true communion is and let me be willing to be held in it with others. Help me to discern the distinction between serving you and serving myself – while being blind to the worldly distinctions between myself and others. May I accept the suffering of others with love – and the love of others in my suffering. Amen.