A few minutes ago, I was walking home from work, munching on my lunch.
Having just finished a large story, I had briefly considered going into the mall to reward myself with a more relaxed lunch, but I didn’t feel right about it. I just wanted to hurry home to spend some time with Tracy and the kids before she leaves tonight, so I just grabbed a pot pie from the gas station instead.
Well, two pies and a drink. One’s usually enough, but today… well, I just felt like I should get two.
So I munched the chicken and mushroom pie as I walked along the main street, accidentally mashing it into my hand a bit (they’re not the sturdiest things, after all). At the corner, I paused to throw out its wrapper and wipe my hand with a napkin, and I took a swig of my drink, which delayed me starting that second pie, the “prime steak” one that I really wanted.
They are tasty. Save the best for last.
I walked past an older lady who smiled as I greeted her and took another swig, and I began reaching for that second pie when a man greeted me hesitantly.
He was a Cape Colored man, someone whose heritage includes Malaysian ancestors, slavery, and a third position during apartheid separate from blacks but still below the whites. It’s still hard sometimes for us to get used to that identifier, Cape Colored, but that is because of a similar term’s baggage in our own homeland. Here, it’s the correct and polite term for a distinct cultural group of mixed ancestry. This is still something I’m learning about, so forgive me if this brief post errs at all. It’s not the main part of this post, but it’s influential in it.
This man, this individual man, was Cape Colored, but he was also poor. He was a beggar. He asked me for some food or some money to buy some.
None of this is uncommon. People approach us – on the street, outside the gas station, at our gate – all the time. Some of them even fawn or grovel; they apologize for being poor and bothering those who aren’t.
This man, though, didn’t just beg hesitantly or apologetically. He bowed down to me. He dropped all the way to the ground, kneeled, and placed his hands in front of him toward me. To ask for food.
Don’t. Please don’t.
I asked him why he bowed to me. He explained that he was asking for food. I had some that I didn’t need, and he was welcome to it; his hunger moved me, but his lowering himself moved me more.
I asked him again why he bowed to me, and said he shouldn’t do that. I asked him who he was; he didn’t want to give me his name, but that wasn’t ultimately the identity I wanted him to remember.
Gradually, with many failures, I guided our conversation to his identity and worth. He said he was a Christian, so I asked him who made him. He fished for the right answer, offering the neighborhood, water, and even me, but I kept pointing him back to God, to being created by God and therefore equal to all of His other creations, and to God alone being worthy of our bowing adoration.
“Please don’t bow to me,” I said. “Just ask. I may not always be able to help, but today I am. Here is your lunch. Enjoy it and remember that God made and loves you.”
The point was not to delay his lunch; the point was to feed a different need, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well. I’m not Jesus, and I didn’t fix this man’s problems or heal his soul as Christ did with the Samaritan and so many others. I’m not nearly as good as He was at helping people see themselves through His eyes, of seeing their own worth as His children and being made whole through His love.
But I am His hands and feet and voice at times, just as we all are, and I am here to try to share those things. That also means sharing them here in this venue, not to brag but to remind and encourage, even in our imperfections.
He never gave me his name, but God knows it. Please pray for this man to have enough and to find his way, and for all the causes of poverty and inequality to stop harming His children.
John 21:15-17 (NIV)
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’”