The man standing across from me surprised me. He wore a purple t-shirt that said, “World’s Greatest Dad.” His dark hair was clean and parted on the side. He looked like someone I’d meet at a party or school function. As I spooned some green beans onto his plate, he told me how he missed the homegrown green beans his mother used to make and thanked my husband Matt and me for choosing to serve green beans for dinner. We chatted for a few moments, he said God bless you and continued on, picking out some cake for dessert.
While we only interacted for a few moments at the men’s shelter in East Liberty, but I’ve often wondered how the World’s Greatest Dad ends up homeless. Was he really a father or did someone give him that t-shirt. Did he even notice what it said? Were there kids and maybe a wife somewhere who were also struggling and homeless but ineligible for help at a men’s shelter? What happened in his life? Was he addicted? Ill? I will always wonder. I will regret not asking.
Reflecting on that moment, I realized that his presence unsettled me because I was seeing myself in him.
Mission is at it’s most unnerving when the people we are supposed “serving” look and act the same way that we do. It’s frightening because we can look at another person and realize that we are in this together. We, too, could be in that same position—waiting in line for our next meal, asking a friend for a few bucks to get us through to the next month or praying that the next doctor visit won’t take the last of our grocery money.
In these unsettled economic times, some of us do have to rely on others for our basic needs. However, this is not new. God’s commands have always included a community that cares. A community that provides for those who cannot provide for themselves.
Following Christ means obeying this command to love one another. Not just happy feelings, but providing resources for each other. It's a command that runs from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Deuteronomy says we should care for others, even foreigners! Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself. The mark of the new church in Acts was that the believers held all things in common--their ideas, their love and their possessions. We should seek to be not just connected, but in communion with other people and with God. It means looking into the eyes of another person and seeing someone to love, not an "other" to help. When we approach Jesus' command in this way, we are caring for the eternal—the kingdom that Jesus tells us is here, at hand.
It's a command that I struggle with all the time.