I found Jesus on the side of the road.
A few days ago I went for a run and decided to pray a rosary while I ran. When my run was finished I looked down and noticed that the cross at the end of my rosary had fallen off. I jokingly said to myself, “Looks like I lost Jesus!”
I went for another run today and kept my eyes peeled for the cross. I figured I’d find Jesus covered in scratches, neglected, resting in some gravel, inches away from a chewing tobacco tin. I thought I’d be able to tell people “I found Jesus on the side of the road!” The more I thought about it, the more I realized that would not have been the first time I’d found Jesus on the side of the road.
[I share with you the following story with some hesitation. I didn’t want to make this story public because I didn’t want to make it seem like the intent behind sharing it was to draw attention to myself. At this time I feel it would be beneficial for my readers if I shared this story in hopes that it will raise awareness of the dignity of every man and woman.]
A few months ago I was driving back from a Eucharistic Adoration chapel in Burton where I’d spent about an hour in prayer. When I approached a stoplight I noticed a man standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign, smiling and nodding at the cars that passed by. I thought to myself “Avoid eye contact. There’s nothing you can do. Who knows, maybe he’s just going to use my money to buy some booze or lottery tickets. It’s not even winter, he’ll be fine. Someone else will help him.” As the light turned green and I drove past him, I read his sign: “God bless us all.”
Suddenly all these other thoughts started to rush over me: “What if everyone else who passes him thinks ‘Someone else will help him’? What if he isn’t going to use the money on booze, and who am I to hold this man accountable to such high standards while I have a six pack of beer waiting for me at home? So what if it’s not winter, what kind of an excuse is that? Didn’t I just read while I was in prayer how ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:14-17)?” Not out of guilt or obligation, but out of love, I turned around and headed back to the man on the side of the road. I had to remind myself “I’m not doing this so I can tell people about it or write a blog post about it. I’m doing this out of love.” That’s why I was so hesitant to share this story and why I’d only told two people this story before posting it.
When I approached the stoplight it once again turned to red. I rolled down my window and waved to the man. He began to approach my vehicle and I rummaged around for some cash. I also had a spare rosary on the seat next to me so I decided to include that as well. When he arrived at my window he said “God bless you”. I reached out my hand and put my small donation into his palm and looked him in the eye as I replied “God bless YOU.” He took hold of my contribution and I gently tapped the back of his hand. He looked down and didn’t say a word. He started to back away, still looking down, and I began to drive off as the light turned green.
I began to think about his reaction. I couldn’t get that moment out of my head when he dropped his eyes and fell silent. I surmised that there could have only been two reasons for this reaction. One option was that he wasn’t really in need of money, he had just dressed up in old clothes and covered his hands with dirt and oil and was just out to deceive people into donating him some money. When I handed him my donation he saw my sincerity and felt ashamed for what he’d been doing and couldn’t stand to look at me. That was option number one and in my heart I knew that wasn’t true.
Option number two was that he sincerely was poor and wouldn’t have minded some monetary assistance. Yet when he saw a young guy stop and acknowledge him, he began to feel ashamed. He must of thought “If only this kid knew I haven’t always been this way. If only he knew the moments I’ve had.” He couldn’t bring himself to thank me or even look at me because he must have pictured how he must have looked through my eyes and the eyes of everyone else who had driven past him. I chose to believe option number two.
As I continued to drive, I couldn’t help but think of the song “Moments” by Emerson Drive. I played the song on my iPhone and wept as I listened closely to the lyrics. I began to think “What if that was one of my good friends from college ten years down the road? What if I ended up losing contact with my best friend and he made a few mistakes and had to rely on the generosity of people driving by in order to live?” I felt sick as I imagined people driving by and avoiding eye contact with my potential homeless friends. I began to realize that the homeless haven’t always (necessarily) been homeless. Some of them had had their moments, days in the sun. How ashamed some of them must feel when they realize where they’re at in life and have to ask for help.
I know I can’t financially assist every single homeless person I meet who holds up a cardboard sign from here on out. But I will never forget that moment where I got a glimpse into the mystery of how much we are all worth in the eyes of God and where I got a glimpse of the dignity of every man and woman. I’m convinced that that man helped me more than my simple donation helped him that night.
On my run today I thought I’d find Jesus covered in scratches, neglected, resting in some gravel, inches away from a chewing tobacco tin. A few months ago I found him on the side of the road in a similar condition. He says “God bless”.