Today I drove through the intersection on my way to work and I saw the same girl holding the same sign. This is the girl I pretend not to see every morning; the one who looks a lot like my own daughters, but I can’t look her in the eyes because then I will have to recognise that she is someone else’s daughter.
But today something is different. Beside her sits a well-dressed woman and they are engrossed in conversation, oblivious to the morning traffic and the lights changing from red to green and back again.
Today is different because a well-dressed and busy woman, on her way to work like the rest of us, recognized the possibility of a Holy Encounter – an opportunity to show kindness. And like Jesus, she was willing to drop everything to meet the need right in front of her.
I too had seen the need, several times in fact, but I had failed to respond with kindness.
George Saunders shared with the 2013 graduates at Syracuse University, that his biggest regrets in life were his “failures of kindness….those moments when another human being was right there in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”
I get that. And I can’t help but feel ashamed.
How often I justify not doing something because I’m being sensible….I’ll be late for work…it isn’t safe…someone else will do it.
But if it’s God tugging at me, these excuses just don’t fly.
Then again, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe I think to serve is an all or nothing scenario, that I must abandon my current life and become the next Mother Teresa. And perhaps that is the calling for some, but what about the rest of us? Who are we expected to serve, have compassion for, be kind to?
There are the obvious ones – the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the sick.
But I think we must look beyond the obvious.
Jesus showed mercy to the blind, the lame, the crippled and the tormented. He touched the unclean, the diseased and the dead. And I think He did this not just to show that He had the power to heal, but perhaps to remind us who we are to care for today. Here is my list:
Not just the poor, but the poor in spirit; Not only the lost, but those who are still searching;
Not just the blind, but those blind to the truth and the possibility of hope;
And yes, we should care for the homeless, those in need of physical shelter, but let’s not forget those in need of refuge from an often harsh world, and those in need of a country that offers religious freedom or political asylum.
It is clear that we are to care for orphans and widows, and this should include children living without fathers and single moms struggling to raise children alone.
And what about those who are in prison? Not only the people who are behind actual bars, but also those who are prisoners of their past (and we are all prisoners to the past if we don’t yet know forgiveness.)
Jesus healed the crippled and the lame. We need to be especially kind to those who are tired of falling short, weary of life’s setbacks and crippled with shame.
Jesus fed the hungry. So should we. And we are to include those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) and those who have tasted this earthly life and been left empty, who wonder “Is this all there is?” We can do this, not by judging, but by befriending, not by condemning, but by welcoming them to our table.
Holy encounters won’t always be safe or simple and they are rarely convenient. They may very well be scary and incredibly ugly and at times probably more than we can do on our own.
But as I write this I can’t help but think of Mary gazing at her suffering Son and how she still stayed -even as strong, brave men ran away.
We can’t have Holy Encounters without getting dirty. On our knees, in the trenches – knowing that the trenches are everywhere – not just Calcutta or Calvary.
Are we willing to hold on for those ready to let go?
Willing to carry those who can no longer walk on their own?
Willing to reach out our hand to help another – even if it is slapped away? Because not everyone will be grateful for our efforts.
As followers of Christ, that is what He asks of us.
Holy Encounters hold a brave sort of compassion, a resting place for wounded souls, somewhere safe in a world where our differences often push us to be unkind. They remind us of a merciful God and the kindness He offers each one of us, regardless of our past mistakes and in spite of how we have lived.
I once heard someone say that if we try to separate loving God from loving our neighbor, then our faith is a lie; that people will see what we believe not by what we say, but by how we live.
If so, we need to live in such a way that we create the kind of world we pray for.
I’m starting today.
Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.