Practical religion sometimes is not pretty. Jesus says clearly in Matthew 25 that to feed the hungry, to give a drink to someone thirsty and to visit the sick and the lonely is doing it personally to Him.
Recently I was visiting in Portland, Oregon, coming out of a shopping mall in mid-afternoon suddenly there in front of me was a shabby, unkempt homeless man asking for money. My standard response is, “I do not give out any money but if you are hungry I am happy to get you some food.”
“That would be great,” he said, I have not eaten today.”
“What kind of food would you like?” I asked.
“A burrito would be great,” he responded.
Not knowing the area well, I said, “Where is the closest Mexican restaurant?”
“There is a one just down the road,” and as he pointed I could tell that it was at least a couple of miles away.
“Jump in my car,” I said and I will drive you over.
“Oh, I can’t get into your nice car,” he responded. “I am dirty and will soil your seats.”
“No problem,” I said, “they are leather you can’t hurt them.”
After some persuasion he finally got into my car and we drove to the restaurant.
The menu had several varieties of burrito and he chose the one he preferred and we ordered it. “Would you like a drink with that?” I asked.
“That would be great,” he said.
When the order came the burrito was much larger than either I or he expected. He exclaimed, “that’s big, it will do for two meals.”
As we picked up our take-out, I looked around the restaurant and could sense that everyone including the servers were thinking, “what’s up with this, another sucker has got taken.”
As we were going out the door the man excitedly said, “I am going to find a nice sunny grassy place and enjoy half of this and keep the rest for tomorrow.”
It was obvious that there was no such place nearby so I said, “could I drop you off some place.”
“If you could drop me off at the train station that would be great, it is near where you picked me up,” he said.
We got in the car and while driving, I asked.
“How long have you been living on the streets?”
“About twenty years,” he answered. “I had been working for my dad doing roofing and he died suddenly of a heart attack and within three months my mother died. I worked for the man who took over the business for a few years but the business closed and I was never able to find steady work.”
As we arrived at his drop off point he turned to me and said, “God bless you, there are not many people who treat us nice.”
Then as he was getting out of the car, maybe sensing that I was a Christian, he turned back and said, “I am a believer you know. I would never survive on the street without God taking care of me.”
“May God continue to bless you,” I said, and he was gone out of my life but not out of my thoughts and prayers.
I have thought a lot about that man and my experience with him. It was a clear reminder that we are all God’s children and many of His children do not look, smell or live as nice as we might expect.
Jesus said, “when you do it to one of the least of these, you are doing it to me!” I know Jesus enjoyed the burrito that day and I was blessed.
Cameron Johnston is a retired pastor currently living in Williams Lake, BC.