I’ve been thinking of obtaining my prescriptions through a mail order pharmacy. I would save a fair amount and it would be so much easier and more convenient. Instead of navigating around the torn up streets, donning a mask, and entering a store to wait in line during a pandemic, I could just go to my mailbox. Why not?
The only problem is that the life of the Christian is not meant to be one of ease and convenience. What feels good is not necessary what is good.
I was leaving Walgreen’s with my prescription today when the Lord Jesus stopped me in my tracks. I had imagined for a moment that I was going to make it to my car without encountering a panhandler and I felt a sense of relief. That is, until I saw him out of the corner of my eye. He had spoken so softly that I wasn’t sure he had actually addressed me. It would have been easy to keep walking as though I hadn’t heard him. However, in my heart, I knew I had.
He was a tall, thin young man with a beard, carrying a satchel over his shoulder. His clothes appeared nicer, cleaner, than many of those on the street. Hesitantly, he asked me if I could spare some change.
I asked him what he needed and how he came to be in this position and out spilled his story. He had been living a small city one county over, taking care of his mother. She recently went into a nursing home, tying up the assets that had supported them both. He had held jobs previously but left them to take care of her.
Now, he had nowhere to go, no money to live on. He had packed up what things he could carry and found his way to 2100, Cleveland’s largest homeless shelter for men. After his things were stolen, he took his leave to try to make it on the streets. He had panhandled enough to stay in a cheap hotel one night.
The weather had been mild for the last couple of days but, last night, the temperature had dropped down into the forties and never came back up. He hadn’t slept in 48 hours and had hung around the county hospital as long as he could. Then he rode the bus all night, trying to doze off a little and keep warm.
His name was Brad and he shook my gloved hand.
He explained that he had applied for food stamps and was awaiting their arrival, knowing that he would probably have to sell them for cash. He denied any addictions or problems with the law. He simply had nowhere to go.
After I gave him some help and drove away, I felt like crying. He was so immensely grateful but, in the end, it felt like there was so little I could do for him while standing in a chilly parking lot on a Saturday afternoon.
He wasn’t just glad for the money I gave him. He was relieved to be able to afford a small break from being sworn at and insulted as he asked for help. I don’t know how anyone could have looked at Brad and been so cruel but our world has become a harsh and dangerous place. But wouldn’t I have been cruel too if I had just kept on walking?
Brad doesn’t know it but he gave me something in return this afternoon.
As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King this weekend, he reminded me that each and every person who stands outside of Walgreen’s and begs is a person with a story. Each of them has desperate need, not just for food or shelter or medicine, but for compassion, for some restoration of dignity lost.
I might as well have been walking by the crucified Christ when the evil one whispered in my ear: “Walk by. Pretend you didn’t hear him.” Did He not warn me what He will say when He appears in His glory? How could I even consider walking past one of “these least ones”? Could I walk by my Lord as He hung from the Cross?
Do I imagine that I can speak of caring for the poor and then can justify myself with excuses as to why I did not stop when they called on me – explaining to my King “but it wasn’t safe, he wasn’t wearing a mask”, “he was probably going to spend it on drugs”, “he needs to get a job and have a better plan than this”?
It is frighteningly easy to be drawn into what is easy. A couple of phone calls or clicks on my computer and I can avoid going to Walgreen’s altogether. I can escape that tension within that makes me want to hide from my crucified Savior. I can stay warm and safe and secure in my privilege and not have to see His wounds. I can convince myself that I already do enough.
No – no mail order pharmacy for me, at least not now. Winter approaches, the shelters will soon be overflowing, and COVID-19 rages on. I will look for these “least ones” now when I go to Walgreen’s. I will keep some cash handy and some extra face masks to give away to help protect them. But most of all, I will listen and let them know they matter. It isn’t much but it’s more than nothing.
May God have mercy on my wretched soul…