Today I was crossing the street from my hotel to the convention center. I saw a man approaching who appeared to be homeless. This wasn’t surprising, as there have been many homeless men and women around the convention center. I can’t be the only one who has felt a strange contradiction well up inside each time I see a homeless person begging for money but pass by in order to get to my church meeting.
And I have been passing them by. I do it at home as well. I opt to donate money in large chunks to established organizations rather than to individuals I encounter. I mainly do this because I am pretty meticulous about tracking my finances, including donations. Plus I don’t want to leave my charity up to chance, and I know I will not always be able to stop and give money to every person who asks. It feels weird to give to some and not others, which is dumb. I am an equal opportunity ignorer. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s what I’ve been doing in life thus far.
But today there was this man. He looked up at me with a friendly smile and asked, “Miss, could you spare a dollar?” He was tall and thin, a white man with slightly long brown hair and a bit of a beard.
Yeah. He looked like Jesus.
Not just any Jesus. He looked exactly like that stupid, invented, European white Jesus that we’ve all been raised on. It’s that image you can’t shake, even though you know the real Jesus would have looked nothing like that.
At the end of chapter 25 in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a story about what will happen at the end of time, when all will be asked to account for their actions. Those who come with him are told they are being rewarded because they fed him when he was hungry, took care of him when he was sick, and a whole host of other things.
But they are confused. “When did we do that?” they ask. “When did we help you?”
He says, “Just as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
It’s one of the most straight-forward things Jesus ever says. Take care of those at the bottom of society, and you are doing right by him. Just for good measure, here’s a list of concrete actions to take: feed, hydrate, clothe, welcome, care, visit. He is present in the least of these. If you love Jesus, you will love them and respond to this list of basic needs.
And there I was, positive of at least one crisp dollar in my bag, not running late for any part of my church convention, and staring at a smiling man who actually looked exactly like my stupid anglo-centric image of Jesus. I don’t know how much more obvious it gets. I handed him the dollar he asked for, smiled, and told him to spend it well.
Tomorrow morning I’m going to get change from one of the local coffee shops and start keeping one dollar bills in my pocket, easily accessible to give to every person who asks for them here in Salt Lake City. I may not be able to live my life like this every day, but I can certainly stand to do it for the next five days.
I owe him that much at least.