Jesus came to my house one day and I bounced him, turned him away, sent him packing, gave him the boot.
Strange statement, I know. I will explain and I think most of you will understand but not all. You may not like me after I tell this story though. I don’t like me much when I remember it.
Many years back my wife and I had a party. Our football team was in the playoffs and we invited a bunch of friends over. We had an amazingly warm and sunny day for January and before the game we were outside with our beers throwing the football and probably kicking the hacky-sack around as well, just enjoying the day and the company. It was everything a party should be, good friends, cold beer, bbq, the anticipation of the game. At the time, our backyard was a wasteland so we were in the front yard and probably spilling into the street as well.
I did not see him coming. I guess the man asked someone whose home it was, because he came up to me from behind. I was talking with a group of four or five of my buddies at the time and I don’t remember how the guy got my attention. I think it was the look in my friends’ eyes that alerted me. I turned around and there standing before me in my yard was this dirty, disheveled, sad looking man, perhaps thirty-five or forty years old. His clothes were filthy and ragged and he looked like he hadn’t a bath in a very long time.
Now you have to understand that our neighborhood was by itself four miles outside of town and not on a common route for coming and going to or from town. My home was in the far corner of that neighborhood on a dead end street, bordering huge wheat-fields. We never saw anybody walk onto our street from those fields unless they lived in the neighborhood and even that was rare. In the years before or the years since I have not seen anyone walking down my street who looked remotely as poor, ragged, and homeless as the man who stood before me that day.
The voice that came from him was soft and humble. I don’t remember his exact words but the poor man asked me if he could watch some of the game, he said he could even watch through the window if I would let him.
Everyone noticed the man and every eye was on the two of us. I was sort of in shock. My mind was racing. Where had this guy come from? Why is he here? Everything was perfect and now suddenly it wasn’t.
Everyone was silent but it was my silence that everyone was listening to. I didn’t know what to say. I think I felt compassion but selfishly I didn’t want to “ruin” the perfect playoff party by allowing this man to join us. My silence dragged on and it surely told my friends and wife the story of where my heart was concerning this man in need of food and companionship.
What happened was that one of my friends stepped in and rather rudely sent the guy on his way. I was mad at my friend for doing this and in my mind I used it as an excuse for not being kind to the homeless guy, but the truth is that I was glad the man was leaving and I was glad that I was not the one to actually say the words that expelled him from my yard.
It did not save my party, however, not for me. The heartless words came from my friend’s mouth but they were from my heart, and I felt like the heartless snob that I clearly was. My friend should have kept his mouth shut. It was my home and it was my place to say who was welcome and who was not welcome there, but for five long seconds I hadn’t said a thing. My friend was surely a jerk, but my silence had spoken just as loudly as his words. The man was not welcome, and my continued silence as he dejectedly walked away spoke very clearly as well.
To this day I don’t know what I would have said if I would have had a few more seconds. I cannot picture myself saying no to such a humble request but honestly I had a lot of extra seconds as the man walked away and I stood there, still silent as an uncomfortable murmur started amongst my friends.
Obviously, this sad experience has had a lasting impact on me. I do not remember the man’s exact request. I remember him asking if he could watch a little of the game through my window. My wife remembers him asking for a beer and something to eat as well. What I remember, and it seems to me like it might be the ragged man’s voice I hear in my head; “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in.”
According to the Gospels, those were Jesus’ exact words. I violated all three of those offenses in one memorable minute.
I’m not exactly sure what you will make of this, maybe nothing. I am not a man who is prone to religious exaggeration, though, not a guy who thinks every idea in his head came from God. Quite the opposite in fact.
I know there are plenty of people who will say that this is just another case of a Christian reading something into a situation that isn’t there, making something supernatural out of something ordinary. Certainly, on the surface it was ordinary. Not that I turned away needy people all the time, but there is nothing in the circumstances of that day that appears miraculous in any objective way.
But in my heart, I felt something, and it goes beyond mere compassion for the man I didn’t help, and it goes beyond guilt for not helping him. I believe most of you have had experiences in your lives that have made you feel the same way, even if you were not as blatantly heartless as me. Maybe you have swept those memories under the rug of your mind or perhaps they come to mind easily. Is there a time when you felt someone may have been trying to show you something through some experience?
So, are you disappointed in me? I did warn you that I was just an ordinary guy, not especially nice, or good, or smart. Are you asking yourself; Why would I want to read any more from this heartless bastard who would turn away(or weakly, let his jerk of a friend turn away) a lonely, hungry man without so much as a morsel to eat or a sip of cool water or beer to drink?
I can’t blame you. As I read what I just wrote and my regret, shame, and guilt from that day come flooding back upon me, I can’t say that I would want to read anymore from me.
Perhaps you can see that my words are honest, that I am not trying to portray myself as something better than I am. I am a regular guy who makes mistakes and tries to learn from them. Sometimes I even do, but not always. I suspect I am not much different than most people in that way, Christian or not.
Does my openness and honesty mean you should hang with me a little longer? I don’t know. Do we in life learn more from people who are nicer and have it all together? Don’t those people have more wisdom to share? Or can we learn more from someone who has been in the gutter and crawled out of it but still slips back in from time to time?
Your call, obviously, but if I were answering my own question, I would say that the ones who really do seem to have it all together have gone through their fair share of gutters themselves, or trials. Or, more often, those who seem to have it together really don’t. They may have nice jobs, houses, cars, and clothes. Their kids may be well behaved and they have the coolest friends but inside they too are tied up in knots with their own worries, doubts, fears, and shame. I have on several occasions found that the people who I thought had their act together were struggling with the same type of regrets, unsurety, and disillusionment as I was. On a few occasions when I opened up to friends about my own doubts and insecurities, they expressed shock because they thought I had it all together.
I think most of us are pretty much the same. We’re all nice, kind, considerate people… and we’re all selfish and heartless jerks.
^^That was an excerpt from my book. I was thinking about calling it Blue-Collar Christianity or the Blue-Collar Gospel but both those names are taken. ^^
I am interested in your thoughts. My “Basics” series is a very condensed version of the book.