My own prayer, memorized, came to mind as I stopped my car at a red light and watched a young woman with a cane make her way to the curb by infinitesimally short steps. My eyes hung on the edge of their lids watching the spectacle as my mind raced ahead, carrying her above pavement and traffic on mental wings to her destination. She never even came close. Who knows how long it took her to get as far as she was when I saw her? The green light forced me to go, leaving behind the memory of a young woman still two feet from the curb. How many changes of the light—green, red, green, red—would pass before she reached the curb and stepped down on the street to cross? When she finally arrived, then what? Would traffic simply flow around her as she crossed the street? It would take her ages.
‘…You fill our world at every moment with creatures just like us, falling into need and sin, or arising out of it following the call of life…’
The prayer went on of itself, starting again at the beginning, as I thought back to the wheel-chaired man who always parks at the same spot on the path through the woods between the train platform and the mall. He greets everyone—yes, he greeted me—with a paper cup held aloft in his right hand, ‘Would you like to make a donation today?’ As I passed, ‘No, not today,’ to which he replied—to me, as to the girl a few steps behind me who likewise did not give alms—‘Well, have a merry Christmas!’ I think to myself, ‘What’s wrong with me? Isn’t this the Nativity Fast? Aren’t we supposed to be almsgiving and not just praying and being devout? What, is a dollar too much to pull out of my wallet? I give bigger tips to my barber. Don’t you know, that man, he too can be Christ?’ Too late now to show mercy.
‘…mercy has no size limit, large or small, visible or hidden. It is an arrow that never fails to hit its mark…’
And the people tightly packed into that train. I remembered looking around me. All the beautiful young people, men and women, of all backgrounds, all walks of life, some lively, others sedate. And all the beautiful old people, and everyone in between the two extremes. Even me, hanging on for dear life to the overhead bar as the train took off at a brisk pace. Looking around me, all these faces hiding the people that no one sees, so many blankly looking out. How many of these souls know who they are, why they are here, where they come from, and where they are going? Do I myself know? Sometimes I think I do, at least I hope I know. A blessed Hand reaches down and takes mine and leads me from place to place. A blessed Voice speaks to me by day and night to encourage me. These are not illusions.
‘…we are not alone, and … to show mercy can be as humble as yielding to another’s infirmity, to overlook our brother’s ignorance, to forgive one who injures or insults us…’
A thin, middle-aged man with short gray beard and hair poking out from under a shabby hood slowly makes his way through the crowded train, also with a paper cup, ‘Spare change! Do you have any spare change?’ he asks as he looks each and everyone directly in the face. Nodding ‘no’ to him set me up to more boldly refuse the man in the wheel-chair. I meant to say ‘beggar’ just as I meant to say ‘cripple’ when thinking of the young woman, but I know better. No, not because it’s politically incorrect, but because it’s simply not true. If I’m going to be true about myself, I have to be true about the other man or woman too. There are no beggars, no cripples, in the world God made, only men and women, even if what we have made of that world makes us forget that there is a God.
‘…to stand confidently before Your seat of mercy is to be merciful wherever we are…’
Looking around me at the faces on the train, I thought to myself, ‘Probably none of these people even think that God exists.’ To them this world is a Godless universe. Some of them probably wish it weren’t so, but they haven’t seen any evidence of God in the world. ‘What, no evidence?’ still talking to myself as I finish the drive home. Now my mind is hoping to divert my attention from my sin of refusing to help the poor by drawing me into an interesting discussion. ‘The poor?’ it taunts, noticing that I’m on to it. ‘Those are not poor people! They’re just lazy, or anti-social! No one has to ask for handouts in America. We have a social safety net. They just don’t want to cooperate.’ But it’s too late to equivocate. I know the poor black man in the wheel-chair. ‘What is wrong with me?’ my heart, seeking mercy, cries out.
And I know for sure one thing. That Jesus has every reason to die on the cross for my sake, for all of our sakes. He has every reason to pray from that cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ I may think I know what I’m doing, but I still don’t want to forfeit my place in the forgiveness He asks from His Father. He also has every reason to be born in poverty and homelessness. God the undivided, unearthly Triad, God the living, God the eternal, God the only lover of mankind—God aches to put on human flesh. He does not do so once and for ever in the man Jesus of Nazareth. That is only the Beginning. No wonder people think the universe Godless. They are longing to see God in the flesh as much as God aches to put it on.
What are we waiting for? Show them. We too can be Christ.