Practical religion is sometimes not pretty. In Matthew 25 Jesus said clearly that to feed the hungry, to give a drink to someone thirsty, and to visit those who are sick and lonely is the same as doing it for Him.
I was visiting Portland, Oregon, coming out of a shopping mall in midafternoon. Suddenly in front of me was a shabby, unkempt man asking for money.
My standard response is, “I don’t give out any money,” I replied, my standard response. “But if you’re hungry, I’ll be happy to buy you some food.”
“That would be great,” he said. “I haven’t eaten today.”
“What kind of food do you like?” I asked.
“A burrito would be great,” he responded.
Not knowing the area very well I asked, “Where’s the nearest Mexican restaurant?”
“There’s one just down the road.”
“God bless you,” he said. “Not many people treat us nice.”
As he pointed I could tell that it was at least a couple miles away. “Jump in my car,” I said. “I’ll drive you.”
“Oh, I can’t get into your nice car,” he responded. “I’m dirty; I’ll soil your seats.”
“No problem,” I said. “They’re leather; you can’t hurt them.”
After some persuasion the man finally got into my car and we drove to the restaurant. The menu had several varieties of burritos. He chose the one he wanted, and we ordered it. “Would you like a drink with that?” I asked.
“That would be great,” he said.
When the order came the burrito was larger than either I or he had expected. He said, “That’s big; it will do for two meals.”
As we picked up our take-out I looked around the restaurant and sensed that everyone, including the servers, were thinking, What’s up with this? Another sucker got taken.
As we went out the door the man excitedly said, “I’m going to find a sunny, grassy place and enjoy half of this now and keep the rest for tomorrow.”
No such place was obviously nearby, so I asked, “Could I drop you off someplace?”
“If you could drop me off at the train station, that would be great. It’s near where you picked me up,” he said.
While driving, I asked, “How long have you been living on the streets?”
“About 20 years,” he answered. “I worked for my dad doing roofing, and he died suddenly of a heart attack. Within three months my mother died. For a few years I worked for the man who had taken over the business. But the business closed, and I was never able to find steady work.”
As we arrived at his drop-off point he turned and said, “God bless you. Not many people treat us nice.”
Then, maybe sensing that I was a Christian, he turned back and said, “I’m a believer, you know. I would never survive on the street without God taking care of me.”
“God bless you,” I said, and he was gone out of my life but not out of my prayers.
I have thought a lot about that man and my experience with him. It was a clear reminder that we are all God’s children, and that many of His children do not look, smell, or live as nice as we might expect.
Yet Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).
I know Jesus enjoyed the burrito that day. And I was blessed by giving it to Him.
Cameron Johnston is pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bella Coola, British Columbia.