When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”
~ Acts 14.11
There is a young man named Jay who walks up and down the strip on Granville Street. He doesn’t look that great — big beard, long knotted hair, mangled teeth, you know the sort. Jay has some sort of mental condition and he never seems to remember me, but that’s okay. He also has some sort of drug addiction — my guess is heroine but meth and crack are other obvious options — and I guess that’s okay too. Jay’s always cheerful, polite, and friendly when he asks for change. And he always calls everybody “brother” or “sister” — I sorta like that.
“Pardon me, brother, I hate to bother you, but I was wondering if you might have a little change?” He tends to lean away from you when he asks, smiling, and folding his hands behind his back.
If you do have change he’s always grateful, and if you don’t he makes sure you don’t feel bad for giving him nothing.
I was walking to work the other night and I saw Jay. I happened to have an extra smoke in my pocket and an extra five bucks in my wallet so I caught up with him and offered him the smoke. Then, before he could ask, I also gave him the five while we were making small talk. He was a little stunned and it always makes me sad to see how amazed people are (or how amazed people feel they have to act) if you give them something more than a couple of quarters. So Jay turns to me and he says this:
“You’re my god, man. You’re my god.”
I was a little taken aback by that, and so I told Jay that, no, I wasn’t any sort of god, but what he had probably picked up on in my little act of kindness was the love of God flowing through me to him. Jay had a hard time with that idea. He told me that he wasn’t a very lovely person. That sometimes he did pretty horrible things. In fact, he even told me that he might do some bad things with the money I have given him, so he would understand if I asked for it back.
I told him to keep the fiver. I told him that God knew all about what he had done, and what he was going to do, and God loved him anyway. I told him that it was bullshit to think that you’re a bad person just because you’ve done some pretty bad things. I told him God understands how sometimes we don’t have much of a choice when it comes down to surviving each new day. Even though we mess things up, I told him God still wants to give us gifts.
Jay listened to me and said that he wanted to give me something in return, but he didn’t have anything to give. So, I told him he could pray for me — and he did. His prayer for me was a greater gift by far than the five bucks and the smoke that I gave him.
As I think about what happened with Jay, about what he said to me when I first approached him, my thoughts lead me back to Acts 14 where Paul heals a cripple and the people who witness this miracle mistake him (and Barnabas) for gods. Me, all I had to do to get a similar reaction was give away a few dollars.
What does it say about the state of our Church when such a small act of love gets treated like a miracle? Granted, our ability as Christians to love others is a gift from God, but such basic acts of charity (and much more besides) should define us in our day to day encounters with people like Jay. I long for the day when I give my change to Jay and he says to me, “You must be a Christian, man”.