The man’s response to my gift was not what I had expected. I had gone boldly to bless him and in turn he chastised me.
Two days before, on an overcast morning of autumn’s first chill, I set about my task. Taking recent purchases from their bags, I sorted them out on the kitchen table and organized them into matching piles of razors, deodorants, socks, gum, M&M’s, shampoos, Slim Jim’s, and First-aid kits, all in compact sizes. They fit just right in the large zip lock bags with enough room for the card holding a pocket-sized Cross, a folded five dollar bill, and an invitation to come to my church.
Surveying my finished project, I prayed for God to lead me to the street souls to whom these Blessing Bags would go. Now that the weather was getting chilly, there would be more bedraggled shivering men with cardboard signs standing or sitting on our street-corners. I wanted to be ready to bless them with my bags of supplies.
Sunday morning I drove to church, with a freshly filled Blessing Bag on the seat next to me. Our pastor’s message seemed to come straight from the streets of Jerusalem where thousands had gathered to hear Peter preach about the saving love of Christ. I was particularly inspired by the account of Peter healing a crippled man begging for alms at the door to the Temple. How many people had walked by without noticing the crumpled man? Only Peter and John, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw him and gave him what he really needed – a new life, walking with Jesus.
As Christians, isn’t this what we want to do? Love a stranger, know their needs, and speak boldly about the salvation of Jesus Christ? It’s the Great Commission calling us to go out to the nations, our cities, workplaces, neighborhoods, and sidewalks to share the Good News. I chose that Sunday to reach out with my bag of blessings, and I left Church armed and ready.
My opportunity came sooner than expected, but there he was, a man propped against his backpack sitting under the church welcome sign, just yards from my car.
“Yes, Lord, my time has come!” I grabbed the Blessing Bag and walked over to the man.
“You are just who I’ve been looking for!” were my exact words.
Not a flinch. He must not have heard me.
I tried again, more gently, “Hi there, I have something for you!”
This time I did get a reaction.
“Sister, you have nothing for me that I want.” His accent was thick, his skin leathered, and his scowl fixed.
“I’ve come to bring you a gift…?” I held out the bag of goodies.
“You have nothing for me. You call yourself a Christian. But you lie. You know only lies.”
Oops. This was out of my territory.
I couldn’t back off. I wouldn’t. I can’t say I felt love, but I did detect boldness.
“Yes,” I replied, “I am a Christian and I didn’t come to tell you lies. I came to give you a gift.” He looked up at me.
“Sister, do you know Matthew 13? Do you know Matthew 5? If you do not know, you are a liar and you have been listening to lies.”
Scrambling in my head for verses from the Gospel of Matthew, I was dumbstruck. I decided to come clean.
“You know, I am going to have to read over those chapters when I get home. Meanwhile, could we be friends?”
“We are not friends because you lie and you listen to false teaching.” This guy was rough. As I stood there trying to keep my ground, people leaving church paused at the stop sign next to us and drove on.
“Well, I listen to my pastor who teaches me about Jesus Christ. He does not teach lies. I am sorry you don’t want me for a friend, but I did notice you called me “Sister”. I had his attention as I bent down to eye level.
He stared hard at me. “Do you know how many of those bags I’ve seen? Hundreds! His eyes looked beyond to places I’ve never been. “What do the Homeless need with a stick of deodorant? Where do we wash with a bar of soap?”
He had me there. I wondered where this angry friend of mine could go to get clean and comfortable.
“I just hoped it would help,” I muttered. “Perhaps you could come to my house for dinner?” I could not believe my words, but I meant them with my whole heart. The cars behind us continued to stop and accelerate. I felt as abandoned as this ragged soul in front of me.
The man shook his head and looked far away. Our conversation was over.
Before going to my car with the bag still in my hands, I told him I would think of him as my friend and pray for him.
Not wanting to drive past the man I had failed, I drove another way out of the empty parking lot. It was bad enough thinking Jesus had been watching. What more could I have done or said to the embittered man? Why had he chosen to sit in the church’s parking lot if he did not want help? Were my Blessing Bags a joke? And why had he and I been alone in a church parking lot full of people?
I have read Matthew 5 and 13 over and over trying to glean anything God would teach me from my encounter. I even drove back the next day to try and have a friendlier meeting with him, but he was gone. As I had promised, I have prayed for him.
“Lord, I do not know what binds that man so much he can hardly move in his anger. I am sorry I could not help release him just a little. I will have to leave that up to You. Lord, I pray also that you will unbind me from any doubt about the power of the Holy Spirit in me. May my eyes and ears be blessed by You to see and hear as You do to release and heal the hearts You love. Amen.”