“And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,”
As I recall, he had a twinkle in his eye. Seriously. He didn’t see me watching him. His expression was full of joy over the simple occasion of drinking a cup of coffee. His features had a cherubic quality, angelic even, as his face was lit up from within. A small smile crossed his lips every time he raised the cup to his lip and took a small draw. It was the sweetest smile, the sweetest expression you could ever imagine – it just moved me. He reminded me of my mother, or going back further, my grandmother. His wrinkled brown skin creased in delight with each sip. Whose father or grandfather, I wondered, was he?
While he was consumed with his task, I took in the whole sight of him. He wore a cap with flaps on the sides that were pulled down over his ears, winter gloves and a jacket. Unlike me, he did not take his winter gear off as he sat enjoying his coffee at McDonald’s. I realized then that his clothes were part of him – not just his ensemble. He was homeless. That’s why he could enjoy the ritual of drinking coffee in such a fashion. His smile was for the warmth the beverage provided. It meant, he could come in out of the cold for a while and be visible, instead of invisible. He could be one of us, just a fella drinking a cup of coffee. For a time, I imagined, he felt quite human, again. Broke my heart, though. And I was moved to give him something. Not just something – money. A lot of it. I thought of how much I had on me (funny thing is, I almost never carry cash) and wondered how much would be enough. Fifty? One hundred? Really, Loria? He’s homeless! What would he do with such a sum? And what if someone were to steal it from him? What if YOU’RE WRONG and he’s not even homeless? He’d be insulted.
I turned my back on him as I debated my choices. Finally, I opted to give him enough money to buy a breakfast sandwich to go with his coffee. I figured it was the least I could do. I fished a few dollars out of my purse and handed it to him. He looked up at me with a beatific expression and thanked me. He went back to drinking his coffee, as before, completely enraptured.
“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways.” Genesis 19:1-2
I left the restaurant and wondered what had come over me. Why had he affected me so? Then, I recalled the stories from the Bible that detailed the accounts of Abraham, and then Lot, hosting angels. Was he, this homeless man, an angel? I compared my incident to theirs: Abraham seemed to know, immediately, that he was looking at no ordinary men. He pressed them to stay for a meal. He wanted to take care of them, to do something for them. As if he was compelled. Lot’s reaction was pretty much the same when he saw the same men. Come, stay with me at my home tonight, he pleaded. He knew the townspeople he lived among could be ruthless. Let me take care of you, honor you, keep you from harm, he urged. Hmmm.
Was it just coincidence that these stories occurred to me after my encounter with the homeless man? Maybe not. I had such a strong reaction to him; I would have gladly given him all the money in my purse. And if you knew me, you would know THAT is a feat! I still thought of him on my way home and wondered. Was he just an ordinary man? I wished I had been brave enough to do more. (I wanted to take him home with me!) I know, sadly, there will be other chances to give to the homeless. For the poor, as Jesus said, will be with us always. I’ve made my peace with that truth, feeling that they become opportunities for us to do good to our fellow man. To show the love of God and let it be shed abroad, in our hearts and in our actions. That the world would see the hands of Jesus in our ministering hands. Yep. All that sounds really good. But still, there was something about that man.
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2
Months later, all I could remember about that day was that man. Even though I was downtown for a very important reason, he stuck with me. I needed to appear in court as a potential witness for the state against the driver of the car that struck my car and totaled it. I was apprehensive, to say the least. I felt harassed and harried about the whole procedure. Why did this have to happen to me? It couldn’t have come at a worse time. I was finishing the final edits on my book and anticipating its release. I worried about how the young man would plead – would he make it easier or harder to pursue restitution? That accident set me back physically, as well as, financially. I just wanted it to be over with, all of it – therapy, doctor’s visits, bills, recovery, used car drama – so that I could get back to my life. To being me again. These were the thoughts most prominent in my mind on that day, until I saw him and he captured my attention. Suddenly, I wasn’t so overwhelmed by my pending court case because my spirit had been buoyed by my encounter. But was he an angel? A scripture came to mind recently which further lent credence to my fanciful leanings:
“And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee.” 1 Kings 19:7
An embattled prophet Elijah was on the run from Jezebel after destroying her false prophets. He was discouraged. He whined about all he had done and given in his service to the Lord. He felt like he was being punished (instead of rewarded) for doing what God had called him to do. He ran until he got so tired that he stopped to rest and fell asleep underneath a tree. The angel woke him twice, providing sustenance and encouragement, to fortify him for the journey ahead. And so it is with us. I don’t think God ever intended for us to make this journey alone, without encouragement. I believe he intends to shore us up along the way, so that we don’t lose hope and give up. He sends beings, like my homeless friend, to give us strength for the journey ahead. So that we can go just a little further.