A Tale of Two Cities

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As the worshipers arrived on a late November morning at the Lutheran Church in White Lake North Dakota, they were met by a rather disturbing sight. An apparently homeless beggar sat on the front steps of the church, wearing tattered clothing, a wool cap pulled down over his eyes, and clutching a bottle in finger-less gloves. They had never seen anything quite like this in White Lake North Dakota.

Most worshipers simply walked around the man, or stepped over him, as he sat there. Some muttered words of disapproval, and others suggested that the man move to another doorway before the Sunday School children arrived. One member told the man, in no uncertain terms, that the Salvation Army in Minot was a more appropriate place to sleep it off. At one point, a kind woman brought the man a Styrofoam cup of hot coffee, but not one person asked the man to come in out of the cold, and certainly nobody invited him in to join them in worship.

Imagine, then, the people’s surprise during the entrance hymn, when their homeless friend made his way into the pulpit, took off his cap, and the people recognized that it was their pastor! The pastor began his remarks that morning in this way: “I didn’t do this to embarrass you, I did it to remind us that this is a person that Jesus loves, and he has called us to love him, too.” It was nearly lunchtime at a small dry cleaning plant in Upstate, NY and Emma was waiting on a customer. Her husband, Max, was spotting clothes and the other workers were cleaning, pressing, and putting up orders. Suddenly a blind man entered the store begging for money. He was dressed in shabby clothes, wore sunglasses and walked with a cane in front of him, feeling his way. He made his way down the aisles and approached every employee. Each employee including Max gave the man a dollar. As he made his way back to the front of the store he approached Emma. Something inside of her said this man is not really blind, something didn’t feel right and Emma told him absolutely no. She watched as he stumbled his way down the street to the other small businesses in town and wondered, had she been wrong?

There was an alley in back of the dry cleaners and, as Emma stood in the backroom bothered by what had just taken place, she happened to look out the window and saw a strange, unfamiliar car in the alley. The car was a Cadillac with an out of state license plate and Emma wondered. She called Max to see the car and they both watched out the window. Soon they saw the blind man enter the alley, throw his cane in the back of the Cadillac, take off his sunglasses and drive away. They looked at each other in amazement.

Was Emma wrong for not giving to a man who could have been blind, did she meet with disapproval in the eyes of our God? Emma is a seamstress and has repaired clothing for many people who were in need, free of charge; has worked in her church tirelessly for years, and volunteered for 11 years for Meals-On-Wheels. God sees her heart. Were the other employees wrong for giving so easily, without question? Of course not, they gave from the heart. Will there be times when we see someone huddled in a doorway, looking only for the warmth of a human touch or a sandwich and will we be afraid to approach? Of course, we are “children” of God, learning and growing. Will there be times when someone will prey upon the compassionateheart of others to use and abuse their generosity? Of course, we are also the lost “children” of God, whom the Good Shepard searches for.

I believe that today’s Gospel is about what God sees in our heart, as only he can. Christ has chosen to reach out to the lost and hurting – the hungry, thirsty, naked, and sick through his people. Because we are the Body of Christ, we are called to be for others what Jesus Christ would be if he were here in the flesh. And above all things, if he were here in the flesh, his life would still be directed by a heart of compassion, the heart of God. Let us pray that we too will grow in compassion and love to attain the heart of God.

Sylvia Bates