Just in the last week we've witnessed enough suffering and filth to stun the mind. That kind of suffering brings a stark choice before the mind: either Jesus is the suffering messiah who redeemed our fallen state through his superabundant sacrifice or our lives are ultimately meaningless. Nothing else makes sense: certainly not other religions or secularist attempts to "re-found" human meaning post-Christianity. Only orthodox Christianity has a true and beautiful answer for the problem of suffering. This was clear to me after Chris discovered an elderly homeless woman hiding under a shopping cart and blanket. It didn't appear that a person could be under the cart and the flat, rumpled blanket, but Chris insisted he saw a hand. I knelt down and saw the poor woman on the cold pavement. Her face was swollen and her eyes were full of fear. She wasn't afraid of me, but of the world outside her tiny encampment. She wouldn't even give me her name, saying "What does it matter?" She gladly accepted the warmest wool socks we had and just wanted to be left alone. She shivered the whole time I spoke to her, wracked with physical and mental anguish.
|"Jesus the Homeless" sculpture. Notice the pierced feet.|
I thought I was beyond being shocked, but I suppose it is a grace that I haven't become numb to miserable things. Just the day before, Shawn and I met a twenty-year old prostitute named 'Rachel' at 7/11, and had to watch as a skeletal seventy year old man picked her up in his brand new SUV. We watched them settle on a price and "services" in the parking lot of the Social Services building as we listened to a Hispanic man, Richard, tell us about his near death experiences. Rachel had dropped her sweatshirt in the parking lot, and I went and picked it up as a pretext for talking with them. I gave the sweatshirt to Rachel and was surprised that the old man acknowledged me and spoke. "What is that?" he asked, gesturing at the tunic. "It's the Sacred Heart of Jesus." "No, not that. I mean what are you doing out there? Are you a pastor?" I could tell by an inflection in his voice that he thought pastor-types were self-righteous and full of pride, so I offered, "No, I'm just a schmuck who walks around and talks to people." At that point Rachel put her finger on the window control and gave me a look as if to say, "Okay, bye." She rolled up the window and the car backed up fifteen yards.
Rachel emerged a couple minutes later from the car, and I studied her face as I sat with Shawn and Richard. Her face was flushed, and fighting off an underlying sense of trauma and disgust. Some of her young friends had just shown up, and she submerged her misery and waved the money in the air, shouting, "He paid good money!" Her friend, an attractive young Hispanic girl, wondered if he had more, but the skeletal old man was done for the day.
Shawn had shot me darting glances after the SUV had backed up and wondered why we didn't break up the liaison. It would have soothed our moral outrage for a moment, but then there would have been another "John" just as soon as we left. God honors our freedom even when we are destroying ourselves, although I wish the police had shown up. Sometimes God sends us messengers to bring us back from the brink. While Rachel was in the SUV, Richard told us of the time he tried to hang himself from a punching bag chain. As he put the rope around his neck he began to see "little babies" flying past his feet, back and forth. Shawn and I recognized them as angelic Cherubim. The Cherubim were silent, but were a sign that God is ever-present. God was also present to Richard when a car he was repairing fell on him at the age of sixteen. God was present when Richard chose drugs and the convict lifestyle, when he went to prison, and now, as he struggles with alcoholism. Richard has a deep faith, and he can talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit until the sun sets. I told him that God probably spared him twice because He wants him to be a messenger of the Gospel and care for people like Rachel. Richard knows this. Shawn and I also tried to be messengers to Rachel. We doted on her, offering her wool socks, a rosary, Gatorade, etc. When she dropped her wallet and the contents spilled everywhere, I hastened to gather them up. We tried to show her that she matters, that she's known and deserving of care and respect. We pray that she will understand that one day, and bask in the loving light of her Savior.
Please join us and pray for our friends on the streets. Allow yourself to be wounded by their suffering, just as the Heart of Jesus is beaten and bruised by the misery of His poor children.