“Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” MT 25:40
“Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” MT 45
To be valued, we must be noticed.
Last winter I stopped with daughter Kelly and her friend Sterling at a Subway for a late lunch. Sterling had sat down with Kelly in a booth by the door, but, as it was a cold, wet, and blustery day; every time somebody went in or out a fierce gust of wind hit us, so I suggested we move to a booth further away.
We relocated to a booth as far away from the door as possible. As we settled in I noticed the man sitting alone in the booth opposite us. He was obviously homeless—rags for clothes, sandals (in this weather!), a canvas jacket over a cotton shirt. He was filthy, with a long scraggly beard and long matted hair. He had a large shopping bag stuffed with his worldly possessions on the floor beside him, and was nursing his second cup of coffee.
He saw me looking at him so I said, “I didn’t know they served coffee here,” (which was true—if I’d known I would have ordered some). He looked at me blankly for a moment, and then slammed his hand palm down hard on the table and said loudly, “BELGIAN coffee! Buck thirty-five a cup!”
I laughed and said, “Wow. Impressive. What’s your name?” “Scott,” he said. Kelly and Sterling immediately chimed in with “Hi, Scott! I’m Kelly. I’m Sterling.”
As we proceeded with our meal, Scott withdrew within himself and began an earnest argument with some unseen adversary. Sterling was disturbed. “What he doing?” he whispered. I motioned to him to tend to his lunch.
But there was no ignoring Scott. Finally, interrupting his solo discourse, I asked him, “Scott, do you live around here?” His head snapped up and he said brightly, “Yeah! Over under the bridge, over there,” gesturing broadly toward the intersection where MoPac passes over Wells Branch.” Of course I knew that already; what was surprising was that Scott seemed as proud of where he lived as I am of my pretty little community of condominiums a stone’s throw away.
“Are you staying warm?” I asked. “Oh yeah! Got me two sleeping bags!” he said. I imagined walking around outside in flip-flops.
Feeling helpless at Scott’s apparent cluelessness over his situation in life, I decided to offer him some money and sneaked a $20 bill out of my wallet. As we got up to leave, I approached him and asked, “Could you use some money?” “Sure,” he said, and accepted the bill. “Thanks, lady!”
As we bustled up to leave, donning warm jackets and tossing trash, he approached us and again said brightly, “Thanks, lady!”
“You stay warm, Scott,” I said, and was immediately stung by the words of James 2:16: “If you say ‘go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” Well, I’d parted with twenty bucks. That was something, but there are no easy solutions for Scott.
We still see Scott, panhandling on the frontage road, or filling his water jug at the local Subway, the employees of which, by the way, show unusual patience and forbearance with him—his grubbiness and strangeness notwithstanding. My husband and I slip him bills, which he never fails to acknowledge, no matter how deep in conversation with his imaginary friends or adversaries he may be at the time.
More to the point, we re-member Scott, re-attach him in some mystical way back into the human family. On some level, we know him and recognize his humanity, a gift that Scott has blessed us with. We talk about him and worry about him, acknowledging there’s probably not much we can do for him beyond our occasional cash disbursements.
Except, of course, pray for him.
And now that you know his name, we ask that you do, too.