|"Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow...|
Psalms 51:7 NKJV
My friend and I were laughing. It was a fiercely cold winter evening in the Windy City – well named for the ferocious winds that are characteristic of winter in Chicago. We, however, were well protected from the cold night air. We were sitting inside an expensive restaurant, warmly nestled by the fireside, laughing and enjoying one of the best meals available to those who could afford it. We could well afford to splurge on the best that money could buy. We both had high paying jobs that allowed us to satisfy our whims on a moment's notice. This wasn't any special celebration we were having. It was just us, enjoying the fruits of our labors. We expected to be well fed. We expected to be warm. We expected to be above the pain of poverty. And, so, without giving it much thought, we congratulated ourselves on a job well done and settled in for an evening of well earned celebration.
After hours of laughter and enjoying each others' company, we knew it was time to head home. The meal we had enjoyed was so extravagant that neither of us could eat all of what had been served. Not to worry – we called the waiter over to pack up our left-overs in a brown paper sack to enjoy later for a 'midnight snack'. On with my coat, mittens, scarf and hat – I was grateful that I had come well prepared. It was winter in Chicago. One had better be prepared...
Leaving the fairy tale shelter of the restaurant behind, we encountered harsh reality as we stepped outside. Old Man Winter greeted us with a shrill whistling wind and sub-zero temperatures that can cost you a limb if you linger too long in its grip. Please Lord, just get us home quickly. It's cold outside!
And then, we saw you. Standing outside the high-priced, elegant restaurant we had just left. I saw you almost immediately. You were not someone I wanted to see. You muddied the perfection of the evening we had just enjoyed. I tried to look the other way and hurry by without being stopped. But you were desperate. You were hungry. You were cold. I wondered, how could you survive outside on a night like this? No hat, no gloves, no scarf, and barely a jacket to cover your skin and bones frame.
You had obviously done this before – this begging thing. You met our pace as we tried to flee. I remember feeling so trapped in that moment. All you wanted was our leftovers. My friend was irritated. He had seen this so many times. Why did 'these people' have to hang out around nice restaurants and 'bother' us when we were leaving? He grabbed my arm propelling me forward even faster to escape the nuisance of this dirty, smelly, unashamed intruder that was you. Then I heard your voice again, “Please, can I have your leftovers. I'm so hungry...”
We could not continue to ignore your pleas. Something in your voice caused me to turn and look at you. And, in that unguarded moment, I saw you. You were more than a filthy beggar, sponging off of responsible citizens. You were a human being in need. You were lonely. You were poor, hungry, freezing, and desperate for someone to care. You were in need and we were in plenty. How could we not give out of our surplus? We wouldn't even miss it. And yet, we struggled to yield to the whisper of compassion that was growing louder and louder from some place within.
Reluctantly, as if to quiet a screaming child, we gave you our bags and you raced off to try to satisfy your hunger on the scraps from our table.
I never saw you again. I never knew your name. But, I often think of you. Who were you really?
Was that You, Jesus, dressed in rags and filth and need, wearing the disguise of the outcast? Was that You pretending to be in need, when You own the cattle on a thousand hills? Was it You shivering in the cold when it is You that tells the wind where to blow and the snow when it can fall? Was that You chasing after me that night? Asking me to stop; to open my eyes to see as You see, hear as You hear, care as You care, love as You love?
Were You asking me to be willing to exchange my self-righteous sense of superiority for the cloak of humility and kindness? Was that You pricking my conscience with the needle of conviction? Was that Your voice that I could not silence?
Did You see me? Did you see my arrogance and cold, stark indifference? Were You hiding behind the filth and poverty I wanted to ignore that night? Did you recognize me as one of Your own?
Lord, take away my filthy rags of false pride, cold indifference, lack of kindness, arrogance and so much more. Clothe me with your heart. Give me eyes to see You, ears to hear You. Cover me with the beautiful garment of Your compassion. Make me more like You...