On the Alert for Jesus
I love people watching. At the risk of seeming rude, I use to sit and watch people sometimes for hours. It’s a habit I developed as a child of parents who took me everywhere; everywhere they found interesting and entertaining but everywhere I found boring and more boring. To entertain myself, I took to watching people.
Well, I got pretty good at observing. Like the lesson from the fig tree in our scripture reading, if you know what to look for and how to read the signs or read people, you know what to expect and when to expect them.
What always caught my attention when observing people was observing the people in need of help.
Before my husband and I moved to the Bay Area, we had come to visit San Francisco. Morgan was on a business trip and I tagged along. Corporate headquarters was directly across the street from the Sheraton Palace Hotel so it made perfect sense that we would stay there. While my husband worked, I got to play. So I decided to play tourist for a day and roam Union Square.
Market Street was a flurry of people walking quickly to their destinations. Men and women in suits, cell phones in one hand, Starbucks cups in the other. There were shoppers and there were tourists like me. It was a feast of people for a people watcher like myself.
I soon noticed a tall elderly man struggling through the crowd of fast walking, destination driven people. He walked slowly and hesitantly. When he reached the cross walk he looked even more uncertain. I decided to walked a little closer to him and that’s when I noticed he had wrapped toilet tissue around a wooden cane secured with scotch tape. I knew right away, he was blind. I also guessed that he needed help but in a sea of people, no one was offering.
I’m sure I looked strange and a little rude as I wiggled my way around a number of people so that I could end up right next to this man but I watched him struggle to walk through a busy crowd to get to this crosswalk and I knew he would have trouble getting across the street. So as soon as I got next to him I looked up and asked him if he would like to take my elbow.
He said “Yes, thank you.” and he took my elbow. We walked across the street and I asked further, “Where are you headed?”
“I need to get to Bed Bath and Beyond.” he told me.
“I’m headed that way.” I told him brightly and off we went.
The inner she-mama bear inside of me rose up as I half scolded this man by saying, “The toilet tissue around your cane is spiraling loose. You need to get yourself a proper cane. Is there someone who could help you with that?”
He told me his cane had broken and he had been too lazy to get a replacement. A few more inquiries and he confessed his cane had broken 6 months before. A blind man who could take the time to wrap toilet paper around a cane and go out on Muni to Union Square alone is not someone I would observe as lazy. This man was alone.
We reached his destination and he told me he could take it from here. I opened the door and he let go of my elbow. Off he went disappearing into the void known as Bed Bath and Beyond.
I continued as a tourist for another few hours when I spotted this same man struggling through the crowd on Market Street. Only this time, he had a huge overstuffed Bed Bath and Beyond bag in one hand and that toilet tissue cane in the other.
I walked up to him again and asked again, “Would you like to take my elbow?”
“Oh! It’s you again. Yes, thank you.” he replied.
“Where are you headed this time?” I asked.
“I’m headed home. I take Muni.”
“Ok. I’m headed that way.” I said, to which he laughed.
“Isn’t it my lucky day that you have been heading in the same direction, twice.”
“Yes, it’s your lucky day. You know you still need a proper cane, right?”
“I’ll make sure to get one.” he said a little embarrassed and a little annoyed.
As we walked I made him pinky swear and promise to get a proper cane right away. I made sure he got on Muni and sat down and then I went back to my hotel knowing I would probably never see him again but wondering and reflecting on the encounter I had with him.
I shared this story a couple of times after our trip and each time the comments were that I had done a good deed. But something about those comments oversimplified my experience. They didn’t sit right or feel right to me. So I stopped sharing this story altogether. Until today.
I share it with you today because I think I am closer to understanding what that was about. I think that man was Jesus. That man who was blind and struggling in a crowd full of people was Jesus. That man who was and felt so alone that he had to wrap toilet tissue around a cane to get around; he was Jesus. The man who so obviously needed help was Jesus. The man I helped one morning on Market Street was Jesus. I did not do a good deed that day. I served my Lord Jesus that day and I didn’t know it.
Last week, in Matthew Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the least of these we do it to him. And equally, whatever we don’t do to the least of these we don’t do it to him. In other words, Jesus shows up in unexpected and least likely faces.
I never saw that man again but now I see Jesus everywhere.
Happy Advent, Yung Me