Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers
and sisters of mine, you did for me.
The woman was lost in thought as she sat on the cold, hard plastic seat of her neighborhood Laundromat. “Finish already,” she thought as she impatiently watched her clothes tumble over and over in the sudsy water of the coin-operated washing machine. Suddenly, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Looking in the direction of her distraction, she noticed a young man standing at one of the folding tables not far from her. He was meticulously inspecting each item for possible lint or a stray thread before folding the garment just so and placing it in one of several plastic bins he had stacked on the table.
“Well, he’s certainly not in a hurry,” she thought as she surreptitiously watched so as not to get caught staring. Several impressions came to mind: He appeared to be driven by an unusual attention to details, and he must have been constrained by space in his living situation. “He’s homeless,” came the unbidden certainty. Stuffing her newly washed but wet clothes into a plastic bag to dry at home, she walked toward the door. “Have a great day,” she mumbled over her shoulder. “Yes, ma’am,” came the polite response. “You, too.”
Parked next to her car in the parking lot was an older station wagon with a worn luggage rack on top with a blue Walmart shopping basket and several cardboard boxes secured to the rails with string. She didn’t know how she knew, but the woman was certain the car belonged to the young man inside. Again, a disturbing thought came to mind. “Why, he’s living in his car,” she mused, “but it has nothing to do with me.” Or so she thought.
Try as she might, she couldn’t get the man out of her mind after she got home. She was aware that a local church had been conducting an outreach of some sort at the Laundromat. In fact, they had even handed her a small plastic bag with 16 quarters taped to an index card and a laundry pod and sheet of softener tucked inside. “What a great outreach,” she thought until she pulled the card out of her handbag to see who the benefactors were. There was no contact information except for the initials of some church. It was almost as if the part-time “missionaries” dispensed their duty to love their neighbors without having to get involved. “Mission accomplished,” she thought rather sarcastically.
The woman busied herself with household chores, but she couldn’t get the man out of her mind. Finally, she could stand it no longer. Obeying what she knew to be the voice of the Holy Spirit, she got back into her car and drove to the Laundromat secretly hoping the man would be gone. He wasn’t. So before the woman lost her nerve, she reentered the building. “Please don’t be offended,” she said lightly touching the man’s arm to get his attention. “I have a feeling you may be down on your luck and need some assistance.” With that, she pressed two folded twenty dollar bills into his hand with instructions to contact her own church where she knew he would be put in touch with partnering community programs for people in similar situations.
“You know, lady,” the man said after what seemed like an unusually long silence. I used to go to church and believe in God, but I stopped praying when He didn’t answer. Maybe He heard my prayers after all.” “Not maybe,” the woman responded emphatically. “He did hear you, and He sent me to help you.” The woman assured him that God loved him and that He cared about his circumstances. She wrote down his cell phone number so that she could check up on him.
While some might call it a chance encounter or a “God-wink,” the truth is that meeting the man was a divinely arranged appointment to put faith into action—to be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone who had lost his way. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:14-17).
It is precisely because we are commissioned to be Christ to a lost world that we must respond to the needy regardless of where we find them—across the street, beneath a cardboard shelter, in a remote village on the other side of the world, or in a Laundromat. In God’s economy, our neighbor is truly any man, woman or child living in the shadows of society conveniently out of sight where we don’t have to think about them or deal with them. Our Gospel mandate, however, is a holistic call to meet the needs of those who have stumbled under the weight of a fallen world. After all, people cannot easily hear the good news of Christ over the growl of an empty stomach, or beyond the unfeeling footsteps of those who hurry past the ugliness of their wretched existence. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me,” (Matthew 25:35-36). If we live out an incarnational theology in which Christ becomes flesh through our efforts to touch, really touch others, then we will be blessed. “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done,” (Proverbs 19:17).
The holiday season with all its festivities is upon us, but there are many who will not experience the warmth of loved ones, or sit at tables heavy with delicious food and drink. Will you leave the comfort of your world to be the hands and feet of Jesus—His gift to the world today?
Father, open our eyes to see those less fortunate than ourselves. Give us opportunities to be Your ambassadors
to the world this blessed season. Amen.
— Francine Thomas