Trinkets, Touches, and The Truth
You meet all kinds in this “charity” business. Some will make you smile, some will make you laugh, some will make you want to quit. Some you’ll want to “lay hands on suddenly”, some you’ll want to fire, and some you’ll want to adopt and make part of your family. Some feel entitled and justified in taking from us all that the world has allegedly ripped off from them; some feel unworthy and won’t take even what they are eligible for because someone else might need it more; most are speechlessly grateful and cannot believe they are really allowed to take what is being handed to them.
But the least of these is the one who cannot express need, or gratitude, or even an understanding of what this place is all about. I work in a Give-Away Center for the poor and homeless in a metropolitan city. This “least” one is the who just keeps coming back because the people here call him by his name, smile and ask how he’s doing, find him a new shirt, and give him a package of cookies before he leaves to return home, across the bridge, on foot.
Let’s call him Oliver. He’s quiet, unassuming, minds his own business, as a rule answers yes or no, depending on how you worded your question. Unless he really doesn’t like the way something tastes, he pretty much takes whatever you give him. He smiles and nods, but seldom says more than ten words in a half hour. The clothes he wears are those he had on last week, and last month, and his sneakers don’t match.
He came in to the Give-Away Center on a Tuesday. Same smiling eyes, same pursed-lip grin, same stained dress shirt, same mismatched sneakers. As always, he had his right hand hooked into the left-breast pocket of his “donated” dress shirt. And today, he had a new-to-him pair of lime-green-and-black sneakers in a plastic grocery bag.
“Oliver, HI! How you doing? What’s that in your bag?” He shows me and the staff of guys who work with me, residents in the rehab house next door . We make a big deal about the bright color, and shouldn’t we get you some nice slacks and a shirt to wear with them? He nods in agreement and smiles a little more.
One of the male staff helps him find a pair of slacks (that fit his slight frame) and a light blue shirt. He looks brighter as he shows me his new outfit. The staff member gives me an assortment of rusted bolts, a pen cap, a nickel, and a gum wrapper - the contents of his left-breast pocket. Trash, trinkets, or treasure, none of it mine to take, toss, or evaluate.
“Oliver, how ‘bout some nice shoes to go with your new outfit?” Another grinning nod.
“Sit right here and we’ll find you a pair.” Brown loafers in his size.
“You should wear sox with these shoes. Go ahead and take off your sneakers, and I’ll find you a pair of sox.” The guys stayed with him while I found a pair of sox.
We were not ready for what we saw when he took his sneakers off, but we needed to see his need for more than clothes and shoes.
There’s an episode in the Bible where Jesus meets up with a blind guy:
“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-25)
Oliver needed another touch - more than clothes and shoes, more than even food. He needed medical attention. What can we do? The house nurse had left for the day, the guys had to get back for lunch. I certainly couldn’t leave work to drive him to the ER. What do we do? One of the guys called his pastor who promised to come by after his early afternoon appointment to take Oliver to the ER. We got him lunch and waited with him until Pastor picked him up. Another touch.
He still needs one more touch, I can feel it. Anyone can see it. But nothing that we “in the charity business” or in the medical profession have to offer will adequately “open Oliver’s eyes”. No, only One Person can do that. And from our human perspective, we can’t imagine that even He could do anything - Oliver is incapable of understanding, grasping the concept of washing his feet, filling a prescription, applying ointment and taking medication for ten days. He walks the streets, finds treasure in garbage cans, wears the same clothes for weeks, and somehow gets home each night to sleep.
When I think about Oliver, I get teary, and smile at the same time. Our earthly perspective is so narrow, so temporal, so physical. Oliver is indeed one of “the least of these”, but he is ‘touch-able’: able to be touched by a friendly greeting, a welcoming smile, hearing his own name spoken with respect and joy, a new shirt and a package of cookies. He has been touched and will continue to be touched by those more “fortunate”, lower than whom he is NOT AT ALL, ... because if we “more fortunate” are humble enough to have our spiritual eyes opened, we will “Know the Truth, and the Truth will set us FREE”... FREE from thinking we are better, bigger, smarter, more blessed.. FREE to see that we are touchable by the very least of these, HIS Brethren, whom we get to serve in The Name of Him Who humbled Himself to selflessly serve us.