The Person You Do Not Want To See May Be Jesus
by Eric Elkin
They sit at the corner of every intersection in St. Paul, or, at least, it seems that way. Letters scribbled on a ripped piece of cardboard proclaim their status and need. “Homeless Vet needs help. Can you help me?” Often the signs include a blessing, “Thank you and have a blessed day.”
It is shameful to admit, but every time I read their signs, I doubt the story. The words seem crafted to draw upon my sense of compassion and guilt intentionally. I find myself playing detective searching for inconsistencies in their story so I can justify driving by without helping. “Look,” I will say to myself, “They are wearing brand new sneakers.” “If they are so needy, why do they have a cellphone?”
My least favorite time is when my car is first in line at the light. When this happens, I am forced to look at them or to look away. After every encounter, I drive away thinking, “And just how would you define my neighbor, Lord?” While I have saved a dollar to spend on a bag of Cheetos, I am the priest who turned his cheek and walked by the wounded.
I have tried to explain my discomfort to friends, but every time it sounds like justification for poor behavior. It seems that way because it is what I am doing. One friend reminded me, even if I am being manipulated, what kind of life leads a person to ask for money this way?
Once when I was complaining about the problem, the young woman I was speaking to looked sheepishly away from me while I was talking. When I stopped, she said, “At one time in my life, that was me.” Penniless and desperate, she had nowhere else to turn, so she sat at a corner with a sign. It was then I realized I always treated these wounded souls as faceless, nameless entities. Not worthy of being called human.
Like looking beyond vulnerable people on the side of the road, we often look by the truth in the story of the Good Samaritan. We are not 1st Century Jews, so a Samaritan is really not a controversial person to us. Matter of fact, we are given freedom to identify the Samaritan based on our comfort level. However, Samaritans were outcasts to the Jews. They were people good Jews were not allowed to touch. Samaritans were to Jews what homeless people or poor immigrants are to many Americans.
David Lose pointed out the most challenging aspect of the story for those of us who look away. He wrote, “…Jesus’ chooses a Samaritan to act like he would act in this parable. Jesus chooses an outcast to play his role in this short morality tale.” Have you ever considered Jesus just might be the person you look away from seeing?
I am working on changing my behavior. Each week, I make sure there is some change in the car to give way. If I do not have money, then I will roll down my window to greet the people sitting there and ask how their day is going. Even if I do not have money, I can still treat people as human. I can still see them.
I invite you to open your eyes this week and see the people you do not want to see. Consider what action you might take to help them feel more human. Then open your heart to their condition. It might be Christ you are opening your heart to.
Click to read Luke 10: 25-37
Who do you choose not to see?
How do you justify your behavior?
How can you “open your heart” to their condition?
When was a time you felt unseen? And, how did it feel?