I want to tell you about a book. A beautiful, wonderful, terrible, moving, life-altering little book. What I mean by that is, upon finishing it, I (an avid reader) couldn’t find another volume in my library which I felt could even begin to come near to the experience I’d just lived through.
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It was as I passed through this day, scurrying from a lunchtime game of racquetball, on my way to grab a bite, that I was brought up short. Working in an urban environment for a great number of years now, I’m somewhat inured to the plight of my less fortunate fellow man, to the human pain and tragedy which faces me daily. Yet there was something about this man, something in his careworn face, in the cornflower blue of his eyes, that stopped me. I think it was the eyes, how they reminded me of my grandfather’s. Eyes which had seen so much pain, heartache, loss, had seen accident, illness, injury. The eyes of an alcoholic, spidery veins zig-zagging around the nose between and beneath them.
Eyes which somehow still had a sparkle, a twinkle of mirth and mischief, to them.
So I stopped. He said something; I didn’t catch it.
“You think I’m homeless. I’m from Las Vegas. I had a seizure this morning. Listen, I’m an alcoholic. I need beer. I feel another seizure coming on. I’ll be a big one.”
“I don’t have any cash.”
“You’ve got a card, right? Please, I need your help.”
The naked, plaintive need was plain for me to see, but my mind was a whirling chiaroscuro of conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, I wanted to believe him, but on the other I’ve been burned enough by similar situations over the years to have developed a veneer of cynicism. I was on my way back to work, with my credentials on display. I couldn’t be seen buying beer.
“Listen,” I said. “There’s a Chipotle right there. They have single serve.”
Clutching his weather worn leather bag a little tighter, the man with eyes like my grandfather’s replied, “I’m not going in Chipotle.”
“They’ve got beer.”
“I just need a couple bucks.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, walking away.
I saw him again a short time later, in line behind me at the drugstore where I picked up a prepackaged lunch. He didn’t seem to recognize me, asking about how I was, how my day was going. In his hand was a six-pack of Busch beer. I went back to my busy workaday world.
I’ve wondered about that man.
I keep asking myself, “What would Jesus do?”
What would He have done?
I don’t know how to answer that. Maybe I never will. Jesus did turn water into wine to keep a party going, but would He have given this man that for which he’d asked? Knowing that it was killing him daily by degrees? I wish I had the faith of Peter and John, could shout, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. I the name of Jesus Christ…”
But I didn’t.
What would you have done?