One of the most stunning lines in the Bible is where Jesus says: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40)
This is so much more than a nice thought about extending a helping hand. There's another powerful message encapsulated within this sentence: Jesus is not only advocating for compassion, He is literally giving us a pathway to meeting Him in the flesh.
During a trip to Washington, D.C., I was walking down one of the main avenues. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a homeless woman, sitting off to the side -- disheveled hair, mismatched layers of dirty clothing, flanked by garbage bags filled with her belongings. She quietly extended a plastic cup for money.
I walked by. Eyes straight ahead. Ignoring her.
About ten feet beyond her, I stopped. As if a gentle, guiding hand were on my elbow, I slowly pivoted and returned to her.
I extended my hand and said, "Hi, I'm John. What's your name?"
Her eyes widened at the personal gesture. She smiled and took my hand.
"Sonja," she replied.
I looked into her expressive brown eyes. Mesmerized. I had never done anything like this before. After all, it's much easier to toss coins in their cups midstride, or simply pass by with blinders on.
"Will you please pray for me?" I asked.
I can't recall ever being so audacious in asking for a stranger's prayers. It's humbling to ask someone to pray for you. It strips you of pretense and formality, exposing your raw despair and needs. Your soul is laid bare. It's about as human as we can get with one another.
"Oh, yes, I will pray for you," Sonja said instantly. "Bless you, bless you, bless you!"
We smiled at one another a moment longer, our hands still clasped. Then I left her.
About ten feet away again, I suddenly realized: I JUST MET JESUS FACE TO FACE! It was one of those glorious light-bulb moments that illuminates you from inside out with the understanding that you have been divinely touched, and that you have learned a little bit more about the mysteries of this life.
Two more times that day, I paused amidst the hustle of our Nation's Capital -- horns blaring, people racing from Point A to Point B as if their lives depended on it, and even a motorcade rushing by at one point -- to visit with the homeless. Hunched down beside them, I experienced their unique front-row seat to our daily rat race.
The homeless men I met were named Moon and Brazile. I took their hands, introduced myself, and also asked them to pray for me. Without a doubt now, I knew I was looking into Jesus's eyes and hearing His voice within theirs. The right-in-front-of-me availability of Jesus was impressed upon my mind like never before.
I wondered how many times I had passed by Jesus throughout my life. How many times had I denied Jesus a friendly smile, let alone extending my hand to Him, asking His name, or offering Him a few dollars for a meal?
Deny Him as we may though, Jesus never ignores us. This is also a lesson I admittedly need reminded of from time to time.
Just today, I was out for a walk in my small hometown. It was a rainy and dismal day, and I walked with a heavy trove of worries bearing down on my shoulders. In moments like these, it's easy to question if Jesus has abandoned you or if He even hears your prayers.
Toward the end of my walk, I saw a young girl -- maybe 12 years old -- in a hot pink sweatshirt coming toward me on the opposite side of the street. When we were directly across from one another, she stopped and looked in my direction, prompting me to also pause. With a wave and smile, she exclaimed, "HELLO!"
I smiled and waved back. I could see she was a young person with special needs. But most special of all was how her presence brightened the damp, brown and gray surroundings.
I then continued on my walk in the opposite direction when suddenly it dawned on me: JESUS JUST SAID HELLO TO ME!
I spun around, but she was gone. Still, I wanted further confirmation. (We all have a little, or a big, Doubting Thomas whispering in our ear every now and then.)
A few minutes later, I glanced in the distance to my right to a street about a quarter mile away that ran parallel to the one I was on. There, walking directly across from me was the young girl in the hot pink sweatshirt. For several moments, we walked like that, a virtual mirror's image of one another. With each step, my awareness grew while the weight on my shoulders evaporated.
I laughed and said, "Okay, Jesus, message received!"
Seeing that little beacon of hot pink light in the distance, I was reminded how sometimes, in our most vulnerable moments, we become the "least of" our brothers and sisters. Yet, the one constant in these and all the moments of our lives is Jesus smiling and walking alongside us -- there whenever we need Him. If only we open our eyes to see Him, and to smile back!