Tuesday night is pizza night in our household, and so this week I found myself at the pizza place as usual, waiting for the pizza to be ready. I had noticed upon my arrival a homeless man sitting at one of the tables talking to himself. Sadly, that is not uncommon in our area. While I noticed him, I really didn’t think much about him. As I was standing near the counter waiting, suddenly the homeless man got up and walked over to me. He stood right in front of me, looked me squarely in the face, and said something completely unintelligible. Then he patted my arm in a very gentle, friendly way, smiled at me and walked out of the store.
The manager was clearly unhappy that the man had approached me and had actually touched me. I, on the other hand, was stunned. Keep in mind that I was not wearing a collar – I was not identifiable as a religious official in any way. And when I saw the man approaching me, I immediately assumed he was going to ask me for money. Yet, something very different took place. Rather than asking me for something, the man spoke in his own private sort of way, smiled at me and then touched me gently. I immediately found myself coming to one conclusion: that this man had given me his blessing. In thinking about the incident, I find myself unable to come to any other conclusion except that I had been blessed by a homeless man. He had given me what he was able to give me and had not asked anything in return.
It was not much of a leap for me to then begin thinking that this homeless man was Jesus in disguise. Now, I’m sure that most of you will say, “Oh, Matthew, come on. That wasn’t Jesus — it was a homeless guy.” But let us not forget what Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel:
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
If Jesus is able to say that when we serve those in need among us, we serve Jesus himself, then it seems to me that the reverse is perhaps also true: that when those in need do something for us, we are receiving from Jesus.
In the end, you may not think much of my encounter with the homeless man. He can be quite easily set aside as a mentally ill, raving poor guy with no place to live. Then again, many people tried to set Jesus aside as a mentally ill, raving poor guy with no place to live. Regardless, I have to admit that I left the pizza place with tears in my eyes, for I had met Jesus and he had given me his blessing.