35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
I grew up sheltered by an Irish Catholic upbringing and twelve years of Catholic school. When I moved to Boston, then onto New York City, I moved there with no true understanding of poverty. Among my classmates, I fell at the lower end of the affluence spectrum. My father was only an engineer at NASA while my friends were children of colonels, judges, and surgeons. My exposure to poverty was limited to a women’s shelter one of my clubs at school adopted, and the occasional food or coat drive.
Upon arriving in the big city fully unprepared, I discovered I was in for a rude awakening. I had never seen panhandlers or street people before. I was not accustomed to the stench of the poor. Yes, they have a smell that permeates the air in a city of that size, especially on a hot summer day, or during the coldness of winter when the smell wafts up through the subway vents. Homelessness, destitution, and hopelessness loom around every corner, inescapable.
At first I either thought I would grow accustomed to seeing it or I could somehow avoid seeing people living like this. Neither happened. But, unlike many, I could not turn a blind eye to these people. I wanted to help every one of them. I quickly learned you can’t buy lunch for every homeless person you meet or you too will find yourself lacking in resources. So I found other ways to help those in destitute situations. I have served in soup kitchens, volunteered for winter shelter programs, given out lunches to street people, sponsored winter gear drives to get more hats, gloves, coats, and blankets to those in need, and more. One Christmas I made more than 100 dozen cookies and handed them out to the street people.
But I never felt as if I was doing enough. I feel small and my actions insignificant in this huge world full of poverty and need. Rather than become discouraged and apathetic, I remind myself that I am serving Christ, and I am the hands and feet of Christ. For me that is mind-blowing. I do not even need to attempt to figure it out. I can just own it and live it. And I should never become complacent about it.
Today, with The Living Passover less than a week from opening night, I stepped out of my safe middle class world and invited practically a stranger to the performance we are attending. She is a homeless woman I met who had been on the streets but finally has temporary housing. She is searching for meaning in all of her struggles. She lacks direction but is a genuine person who listens intently when I talk about God and my church family. Inviting her wasn’t totally easy; Jim and I could have enjoyed the evening as a date night. But I knew I needed to invite her.
Who will you encounter today that is standing in for Christ? Does someone need a meal? A blanket? A companion for a bit? Medical care? Or maybe an invitation to something that might change their life? Open your eyes and look around, many people are genuinely in much need.