By Amy Moehnke
A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking to pick up lunch from a downtown restaurant, I found myself crossing the street with a man who appeared to be homeless. This is not an unusual occurrence, as you can imagine, but rather something that happens just about every time I walk anywhere downtown. It doesn’t generally bother me, as it’s simply part and parcel of being in this part of the city.
This particular day, though, I was feeling less than generous, and so as the light changed, allowing us to cross the street, I hesitated, deciding to hang back rather than walk alongside the man. About 3 seconds after making this decision, however, I remembered that I was in the middle of working on a sermon that centered around a text from the prophet Amos, whose entire project centered around the mandate to care for the poorest and neediest within the community. I was well into the sermon, and was indeed admonishing the St. David’s community to do what Amos said we should do, but here I was, unwilling to even walk beside a person who would definitely have fallen into Amos’ designated category. Ashamed of my initial reaction, and convicted by the words I had written in the sermon, I changed my mind, and decided not to hang back. If I he asks me for money, I thought, I will give it to him and be on my way.
As we waited for the next light to change, I asked him how it was going, fully anticipating that he would then make his plea for financial assistance, but instead he simply started talking about the wonderful lunch he had just had at Caritas, and about the very nice staff of Trinity Center that helped him when he went there to pick up his mail. I mentioned that I worked at St. David’s, and was glad to hear that he regularly had a good experience at Trinity Center, and for the next block and a half we traded stories about people we both knew from there.
Before I knew it we had reached the corner of 7th and Congress, and it was time for us to go our separate ways. It had been a lovely conversation, making the walk go quicker and feel easier than it usually did when I walked that route by myself. At no point did he ask me for anything, nor did he complain about his lot in life or blame any number of people for why he was in the position he was in. We simply talked.
As he turned toward the bus stop, he shook my hand and said it had been nice talking with me. I replied, honestly, that I was glad we had met, and that I hoped I would see him again around town. He wished me well and told me to be careful crossing the street, and as I made my way toward the restaurant to get my lunch, I reflected on how the small decision to engage this person had made such a huge difference in my own life.
The transformation in this story, of course, was my own, and I share it with you because I feel so grateful that I had this experience. Through it, I was able to better reflect the generous, curious God I love rather than the self-centered, inwardly focused person I can often be. May we all pray for such an encounter, and say yes when it occurs.