I remember a visit to San Francisco back in 1989, in late August. Our motel was downtown and I was awed by the crowded streets and busy people! These images have all faded somewhat now, but there was one man, however, whose image I will never forget. It’s as clear to me today as it was when I first saw him.
Sitting on a bench near a trash can, the man had thick, matted light brown hair. He wore gloves with the fingers cut out, a raggedy, frayed coat, and looked otherwise unclean and unkempt! I remember being appalled. He seemed to be staring at nothing in particular but watching everything all at the same time. What happened next made my stomach lurch. A passerby tossed his drink and remains of a sandwich into the trash can. The man rose from the bench, retrieved the drink and sandwich and proceeded to have breakfast!
This man was clearly homeless….and hungry! I have no clue why he was homeless, where he came from, or even whatever happened to him. But he stood out and I could identify his situation immediately.
I wonder, if someone looks at me, if they can tell I love Jesus? Can a person just by seeing me, know that? If not, at least if in conversation, can a stranger know where I stand on my faith? Do I project the image of Christ?
A pastor asked the question once: "When Jonah spent those three days in the whale when he ran from the calling God had for him, do you think Jonah might have seemed, looked or even smelled a little odd? If I’d spent three days in the belly of a fish I suspect there might be chemicals from the fish that interacted with my body that might make a lasting impression! Could he have lost his hair, had a change in skin tissues or any number of things that might have made him stand out?" This is the reflection of the man I saw in San Francisco. His image was a direct result of his circumstance.
It is certain, when Jonah approached the people in Nineveh, they took notice! Could they determine by looking at him, he was a man of God? Certainly his message did! His presence and his testimony ultimately led the entire city to repent! God was merciful and filled with compassion and because of repentance did not destroy the city!
As Christians, we are called to share the Gospel. We are commanded to be His disciples in the world in which we live. Can people trust us to be honest with them about our faith? Can God count on us to tell others about Him?
There is scripture which says when we help the least of these, we could be entertaining angels. Could the man I saw in San Francisco be an angel? Could he be testing us to see who even notices the plight of the poor and homeless? What if he really was an angel? Should my reaction have been different than that of horror and well…. Even disgust? I don’t recall all that I felt, but even as I think about the event, the very idea of eating food from a trash can is revolting, ….even disgusting. I only saw the man from the other side of the road and I doubt he ever saw me. But what if……?