My friend Jen told me a story recently about a man she met on a long drive as she stopped at a gas station. The gas station didn’t have a bathroom (seriously what gas station doesn’t have a bathroom?!), so she had to walk across the street to the Subway. There sat a man. Jen later finds out his name is Marty. Marty was a man that most people would not notice, and if they did they would do their best not to talk to him. He was a man that you would tell your children not to touch. He was old, with graying hair, not well groomed, and she said “you could tell that he had been outside for a long time”. While inside Subway, Jen bought Marty a drink and some chips and began a conversation with him. He was a Vietnam vet who was walking from Texas to Seattle. It was his birthday that day. He said that most people don’t stop to talk to him. They talked about God and she told him she would pray for him. Marty told her to never forget him. She to this day has not. She had no reason to be at the Subway. Only because God wanted her there, to provide encouragement to someone who most others walk by. God wanted her there to tell Marty that he matters and that he was not forgotten.
The untouchables. Who comes to mind? Who would you not even consider talking to or reaching out to while you are walking on the street? What would you not consider doing because you see the people you would be reaching out to as untouchable?
I was reading the Bible account of Jesus healing a man with leprosy this week. Leprosy is defined as “a contagious disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes, and nerves, causing discoloration and lumps on the skin and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities”., and was very common in Biblical times. If one was suspected to have leprosy they were supposed to have a priest examine them. And according to Leviticus 13:2-3 if a person was found to be infected, “the leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ Those who had leprosy were looked upon as untouchables and despised. They were not allowed to live amongst their own people. They were not allowed to come within 6 feet of another human being (and that was if the wind was not blowing!). Imagine being a leper and you being so secluded that people were not allowed, by law, to touch you. On top of that you had to walk around letting people know that you were untouchable. Imagine.
“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”
You know what stood out to me in this story? It wasn’t that the leper asked for healing. It wasn’t that Jesus said “be healed”, and he was immediately healed. It was that Jesus crossed cultural and social barriers to touch the untouchable… it is all over the Gospels… people that no one would dare talk to or heaven forbid touch! He reached out to the poor and powerless, those that culture and society looked down upon.
When I first started going back to church I got involved in a mentoring program at one of the schools in Bridgeport. If I am honest, those teens were “untouchables” to me at first. What could I really offer these teens anyway? They were rough around the edges, rude, and didn’t really have any manners. Over the years I was involved in the program, there are a few moments that really stood out to me where doing what was at first uncomfortable made me realize that under the rough edges these teen had REALLY big hearts, and underneath it all there is love and the desire to matter and to be loved. There was one night we had to have a little mediation session between two of the boys (one of the boys named Matt). In the middle of our attempt at mediation, Matt say’s “roach!” I thought he was calling the other boy a name, until I realized that there was a cockroach running across the floor! I think I jumped on the chair I was sitting on and screamed like a school girl. You remember that question that I asked myself, “what would I really offer these teens?” That event opened a lot of genuine laughter between us, and revealed to them that we all have our “things”… even if one of my “things” is being terrified of bugs. Another person that stands out is Chanelle. We bonded over The Hunger Games books. I had no intentions of reading the books because of what it was about, but when I found out she was reading it, I told her I would, as well, so we can discuss it. It ended up creating in us a bond that wasn’t there before. On an end of year outing, I drove her home, and as she got out of the car she said “hold on a minute… I’ll be right back”. She was gone for what felt like 10 minutes, but she came back with a bunch of flowers. She had gone to her grandmother’s garden to hand pick flowers for me.
I have been struggling calling this blog “The Untouchables”, because in a way I feel like it is rude. But if we are honest, we can feel this way about others at times. But you want to know what Jesus teaches? The untouchables are not untouchable at all. They are children of God, longing to be accepted and loved. Longing for someone to say hello to them, or to show them the love of Christ. I probably miss opportunities to show Christ’s love more than I take them, and probably because of excuses. If we are desiring to follow Christ, we need to step out of our comfort zone and step away from our excuses to love those that God puts in our path.
So what are some ways to easily put this into action? Let me offer a few suggestions:
- Always be aware of who is around you. Mike will sometimes take Charlie to get bagels on Sunday morning, and there is usually a homeless guy sitting outside the bagel shop. Mike will always get him something to eat. It would be easy to pass him by, but it would only take a couple minutes to offer him a meal. Sometimes when we have bought food for those living on the streets they have been open to receive prayer as well.
- My friend keeps a snack bag in her car to pass out to those that she comes across in her travels. She noted that her small group made these together to have ready to hand out. As you can see on the right, it is easy to put together, and just as easy to pass out! Side Note: a great addition to this bag would be to put tracks in it.
- Consider getting a small group of people together to help out at a soup kitchen. This time a year, those who come to the kitchens for meals would love a warm friendly face to say hello to.
So, what could you really offer to those in need? Your time, and your self. Where ever you are…whoever God puts in front of you, remember that they are loved by a relentless Father!