I had a pretty unforgettable experience the other day.
It was a Friday afternoon. I had a free hour or so, which hardly ever happens, and so I thought I’d go to evening mass. And I decided to go to a church I had never been to before in midtown NYC.
Like I mentioned previously…I’m “Husband Hunting.”
Cue the hair and makeup team…
We’re all sitting in the basement of this little chapel, just a stone’s throw from Penn Station, and the gospel was on “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do to Me.” (Matt 25:40)
Truthfully, I had kind of zoned out during the gospel. I know, I’m a horrible person. But I mean, how many times had I heard that classic parable? My mind was wandering to my plans with my friends that night, and what I was going to wear, and how much time I needed to get ready. I hate to admit it, but it was a classic in-one-ear-and-out-the-other kind of a scenario.
Well, fast forward to when it was time for communion, and I’m sitting on the aisle, and in true unabashed fashion, I’m checking out any potential men as they make their way up the aisle.
And at the very end of the line, a homeless man, kind of staggers and hobbles his way up to the front.
And if you’ve never been to Catholic Mass, there’s the Eucharist ((bread)) – which everybody receives – and then off to the side is the wine, which is optional. And you typically just take a teeny-tiny, taste…not even a sip.
Well, this man, walks to the front and sidesteps the bread, and goes straight to the wine, where he chugs the entire vessel.
And as he’s walking back, he is very disruptive: banging on the piano, messing with the candles, muttering to himself, tapping a couple people on the shoulder. Just, kind of causing a ruckus before busting through the back door in an exit made for a TV movie.
I’m going to be brutally honest here, I was really not thinking very kind thoughts at the moment. I was being pretty grossly judgmental. Quite ugly, in fact.
And as I was sitting there beginning to spiral into thoughts of, I hope he doesn’t have a gun, or How could he abuse communion like that? – God literally hit me over the head with His message.
For in that moment, I realized that this was literally the gospel – that I had just heard five minutes ago – playing out right in front of me.
Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do it to Me.
Suddenly, I was filled with so much conviction for the horribly judgmental things I was thinking. And I saw that man with new eyes – as though I was looking at Jesus.
His toes were sticking out of the fronts of his worn out gym shoes. His tattered clothes were hanging off of him. This was a broken man, hungry and cold, that was trapped in the cycle of addiction, and needing some serious help.
And it was then that it dawned on me…what I had just said about that homeless man, could have been said about me too, during my anorexia. I was that man – broken, hungry, cold, and trapped in the addiction and enslavement of my eating disorder.
I had been there.
Sure, I may not have been stealing communion wine, but I had been doing other things that were just as unthinkable.
What about my habitual lying about my food intake? What about my addiction to the feeling of emptiness and impulsive need to burn calories?
I was no better than that homeless man. How dare I sit there and think disdainfully of him? This man needed compassion. And empathy. And help.
Walking home and thinking about that gospel, I realized that I had always thought about it from the position of privilege. “Someone who is hungry, or in prison, or naked, etc. etc…those downtrodden people, how sad for them. I’m so glad that’s not me.”
For the first time, I realized that, I was “those people”….We are all “those” broken people at one time or another.
And so was Jesus, when He chose to die.
Since then, I’ve often thought about that man. Especially as the temperature is dropping, and we’ve come to the time of year where family togetherness and overeating are all the norm. And I wonder if he’s warm. Where his family is. Where’s he’s sleeping.
I guess the next time I’m quick to judge, I need to take a second look. See Jesus. And see the thread of humanity that is present in me, too.
And maybe it’s time for me to look into volunteering at the local soup kitchen.
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