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He was sitting on the curb in front of the barbecue restaurant. White haired, simply dressed but clean. Alone. Was he trying to catch my eye? It was hard to tell. His glance was quick, pleading, afraid. “Do you need some help?” I asked him, seeing that he was shivering. (It was cool, but not cold — was it Parkinson’s? Delirium tremens?)

“I have nowhere to go,” he said. “I’ve been living under that bridge [gesturing]. I don’t have any money. I can’t even catch a bus.”

As my husband trotted off to the car to get one of the bags we carry with us to give to those less fortunate than ourselves (we haven’t got the right ingredients down just yet; the ones we’re carrying now hold money, a first aid kit, a hands-free flashlight, wet wipes, breath mints, a meal replacement bar and an emergency camping blanket), I listened.

“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”

“We’re going to give you some things you might need.”

“I’ve been trying to get someone to buy me something to eat.”

“Oh! What would you like?”

“Anything! A sandwich. Anything.”

I gave him a “blessing bag” and went inside, where we ordered him a large sandwich with slaw and a bottle of water. When I went out to give it to him, he seemed startled. He kept saying, “Thank you.” I kept saying, “I’ll pray for you.” By the time we finished eating, he was gone.

This is not about doing a good deed for someone. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. In this man, I saw the face of God. What would you do for God? What wouldn’t you do? And yet I know what I did was not enough. Could I have taken him to a shelter? Where is our local shelter? Would they have had a bed for him? How would that have helped him tomorrow or the next day or the next?

I realize, of course, that most of the people we’ve given bags to are panhandlers rather than actual homeless people. They probably throw away everything but the money. But I have a feeling the man we met last night was the real McCoy. And I failed him.

Yes, I believe prayer is powerful. And I am keeping my promise to him by praying for him. But I could see in his eyes, even as I said the words, “How is that going to help me right now?”

I saw the face of God and was unprepared. But isn’t that the way of things? Won’t we always be surprised by where and how we see God? Won’t we always be unready?

As we drove home, I noticed a garbage bag tucked into the corner of the underpass he’d earlier indicated. Were those his belongings? Maybe. If I go back there, will I find him? What do I have to offer him? Am I willing to open my home to him? (And if I’m not, aren’t I saying, “You are the face of God except maybe not”?)

I wish I had answers. Instead I can only tell you: Look for him — not the man I described, but for God. And try to do what you can. May you fare better than I.

There’s something in the air. Easter is almost upon us. But before we get there, let’s take a moment. Let’s remember Christ crucified, Christ beaten and belittled and spat upon. Christ bleeding and gouged and broken. Let’s spend a moment with the deep terribleness of Good Friday.

Why? Because we can’t fully appreciate the joy of Easter without acknowledging the horror of what came before. And because it is a timely reminder of Jesus’ love and understanding for us. We all suffer. We all feel broken and forsaken. It is good to remember that Jesus felt this way too, and that he continues to feel for us in our most hurting moments. Jesus understands pain. He feels it with us, even though we are the ones who caused his pain to begin with. That’s a huge revelation. It is a portrait of forgiveness and love that points the way for our own lives.

I recently watched a video wherein homeless people read mean tweets written about homelessness and homeless people. I watched them sob as they read the cruel, dismissive observations of those more fortunate. This is why we must remember the crucifixion: Because the moment we lose our connection with our fellow human beings, and with their suffering, we become less than human. Jesus sides, and will always side, with those on the fringes, those who have less, those who are ridiculed and dismissed. Before we judge another human being, it would do us well to remember that.

Keep the cross in mind. Watch for the invisible crosses that those around you carry. Allow yourself to feel empathy for them. Help them if you can.

There is no resurrection without the crucifixion. If you can’t embrace the beaten Christ — and the beaten Christ in other people — you cannot, and will not, embrace resurrection. Amid the good tidings of Easter, let’s keep this in mind.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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