My family and I went to Boston over spring break, well before all of the recent trauma in the news. We did the Freedom Trail on a very windy and chilly day. The kids were complaining some, and so was I. The wind felt like it was going right through us at times. We turned a corner, and there was a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. He was sitting on the sidewalk wearing black trash bags to keep out the cold. He wasn’t even asking for money. He was just sitting in an alcove, doing the best he could to keep warm. My thoughts raced for a minute. What do you do when you see a homeless person? Give money? What will he do with the money? Is he dangerous? Is it safe for us to approach him? My lack of indecision made me want to hurry on. I didn’t stop. We kept going. My son Thomas said, “Was he a homeless man?” I said, “Yes, Thomas. Let’s keep going. It’s so cold.”
I didn’t stop. It was not until we were on our way home that my husband and I really questioned our decision. If nothing else, we could have gotten him a cup of coffee. We could have warmed him up in some, small way… instead of worrying about our own warmth. We could have made a difference with our children in showing compassion. I regret that we did not react quickly enough, but this stranger did teach us what to do next time. We prayed for forgiveness, and we prayed for him.
I recently read this in Edward Foley’s book, From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist: The Gospel of Luke presents the resurrected Jesus as a stranger to his own disciples on the road to Emmaus. One of the great surprises of that story is that if the disciples had not invited the unrecognized Jesus to walk with them and to dine with them, there would have been no recognition in the breaking of the bread; no Eucharist without the stranger.
We never know when we might encounter Jesus in a stranger. I didn’t stop. But next time I will.