by the Night Writer
One morning last week I was walking the five blocks from the train to my office, pretty much just thinking about the day ahead. As I waited at the first corner with a crowd of pedestrians for the light to change, an older black man standing in front of me turned around and looked at me, then said, “God bless you.”
“And God bless you, too,” I said, a little surprised but not really uncomfortable even though I could smell the strong scent of alcohol coming from him as he turned back around. I know from the times I’ve spent with the guys in the Teen Challenge program how much they hated, when they were on the street, how people wouldn’t look at them because of their color, or their raggedyness, or both. Since then I’ve tried to make it a habit to acknowledge people with my eyes when they cross my path.
The man was standing with two other rather scruffy looking guys. He turned to me again as the light changed and the crowd moved across the street, the two scruffy guys and my fellow pedestrians subtly leaving a bubble around me and my new friend as we got the inevitable request for money out of the way (which I declined). He then started a rambling description of his birthday being January 1, and how nobody believes that, and how Jesus walks with him, and nobody believes that either. “Do you you believe Jesus walks with me?” he asked.
“I believe Jesus lives inside us,” I replied.
“Does he live inside you?”
“Yes, he does.”
He went on talking about Jesus following him everywhere. By now Jesus was the only one who could have been in spitting distance of us. I was feeling very much at peace, though, interjecting a comment every so often to let him know I was listening. We got to the corner where my office is and my friend was asking me if Jesus walked beside me. I told him that I believe Jesus said he would never leave us or forsake us, that he would be with us everywhere we go. Then I got bold, though I still felt peaceful.
“I believe Jesus is walking beside you,” I said. “The problem is, you’ve been taking him into a lot of places he doesn’t want to go. I wonder,” I said, “what would happen if you started to follow him for a little while instead of having him follow you?” For the first time in our conversation he was still and quiet. I put out my hand. He took it.
“I believe you when you say you were born on January 1. I believe that is a symbol from God that you can make a new beginning, but you don’t have to wait for your birthday.”
There at the corner of Washington and Marquette I put my other hand on his shoulder and began to pray out loud, thanking God for the man’s life and for bringing us together and for the plans that God had for him. I prayed that God would open doors for him that no man could close and that he would close doors that no man could open. I said “Amen” and dropped my left hand. He stood there with a surprised look on his face.
“Thank you,” he said, softly. Then louder, “Thank you very much! God bless you!” Then he turned and walked away.
Now I harbor no illusions that that interlude will turn that man’s life around, but I know God has done greater things. Neither do I have any doubt that I was supposed to meet that man that day. As for myself, I got quite a lift from the unexpected meeting, and I wondered at the peace and confidence I had felt. I hadn’t been self-conscious at all about anyone else around us, or put off by the man’s appearance or condition. Believe me, that is not my usual demeanor! I felt at first as if I had just done something the way my pastor would’ve done it, and then I realized that perhaps I had done it the way Jesus would have — without a thought or care but for the man he had just met.
That may all be very nice but I also realized that, while I likely won’t know the impact I made on the other guy, that God wanted to show me something. I, too, am guilty — in both thought and actions — of taking Jesus into places sometimes that perhaps he doesn’t want to go. In fact, I can go hours without even being aware of him beside me. As the morning went on I was simultaneously buoyed by the experience and humbled that I was able to experience it. I didn’t really grasp the biggest lesson, however, until yesterday when it finally dawned on me.
The experience felt great and was stimulating because it was different, out of the ordinary. It finally hit me, yesterday, that in fact it shouldn’t be that out of the ordinary at all. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time in church, but was usually out walking, going from one place to another, meeting the people he was supposed to meet, touching their lives with his presence. The same Jesus walks with me, wanting to do the same thing if I will let him; not by preaching sermons or trying to get people to say a prayer so they can be “saved”, but simply touching their lives with a word or a touch that communicates his love for them, showing — as Romans 2:4 says — “the goodness of God that leads people to repentance.”
I want to feel that lift that I felt that day much more often.