“Can you spare a little change?”
“Can you help me out with a dollar or two?”
Every day, I travel by foot down long city blocks from one appointment or meeting to another as the institution I work for spans several city blocks. Like most busy cities, people in need seem to be in abundance. They are just hanging around waiting on the easiest mark; someone who looks like they might give up a little of what they have to them. Some days I think I have a sign on my forehead that indicates I am an easy mark.
I have heard people say, “Just don’t make eye contact, keep walking, and they won’t bother you.” As if these people aren’t really people but some alien race we don’t have to care about. I must admit, I have taken this advice… lots of times.
I was recently listening to a message about the time Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well found in John, Chapter four. There were many reasons why those around Jesus would have understood if he hadn’t taken the time to talk to this woman. First of all, she was a woman. Jewish men didn’t speak to women in public. Secondly, she was a Samaritan. Jews didn’t think too much of Samaritans. And thirdly, she was alone at the well, drawing her water at a time different from the rest, because she was a social outcast; a lady of ill repute. But Jesus was all about breaking through social barriers and reaching right to the heart of the matter, and so that’s just what he did with this woman. He knew her sin, and he was about to set her free.
As I listened to the message, I couldn’t help thinking about the people I meet on the streets of my city. Just like the Samaritan woman at the well, they all have stories. They all need someone to break the social norms and reach out with grace and truth. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t stick out an accusing finger and speak of her sin out loud. Rather, after asking her for water, he began with a simple question. “Where is your husband?” But that was enough.
Giving away a dollar or two (or nothing), and keeping on my merry way would get me to my destination and keep me on schedule, but the impact of that encounter would be negligible. As followers of Christ, our impact is not supposed to be negligible. No one ever walked away from an encounter with Jesus and soon forgot it.
I was walking to Milos for lunch when he asked me for some money. I was caught up in conversation with a coworker and didn’t quite hear the young man.
“What did you say?” I asked him.
“Can you spare some money?” He asked again.
“Are you hungry?” I heard myself say.
“What are you doing? I asked myself.
“Yes.” He replied.
“Well, let’s get you some food then. Come on in here with me.”
The words were coming out of my mouth, and yet no one was more surprised than me.
We stood together in line. Lunch hour rush. So I asked him to tell me his story. As he talked to me, I couldn’t help thinking how we all have one, a story. As he talked I wondered how long it had been since he had this kind of experience. Of just standing in line like everyone else and having a conversation like everyone else. No one looking down upon him, no sideways glances.
After he was gone, I realized I had left out one important step in this little mission of mine. I had reached out in grace, but not in truth.
“I’ll get it right next time.” I told myself.
I mean, what good does it profit the Kingdom of God if a deed done in the name of Jesus has no mention of him? I didn’t buy this young man food because I am a nice person. Sometimes I’m not a nice person. In that impromptu moment, I decided to do something that mattered for the Kingdom.
If we decide we are going to live for what matters, then we might find our lives surrounded by people who need a visit at the well with the One who loves them and can free them forever. It’s up to us to reach out in grace AND truth to meet their need. After all, only the things that matter for eternity really matter, right?