When I first started working on Pittsburgh’s North Shore in 2009 there was only one homeless man who wandered about the area in front of my office building. Eight months later there sprang up over ten! “Bob” was a loner and one of the first I saw regularly. He was often found standing in front of the Fox Sports Network window each morning, eyes glued to the flat-screen television ignoring the busy people scuttling about on their way to work. Sadly, many of us walked past Bob as well pretending he wasn’t there either.
I tried reaching out to Bob one day. In typical stalker-like fashion, I crept upon him while he was sleeping on a park bench nearby. It probably wasn’t the smartest move, but I disregarded the risk and ventured forth. Bob cracked opened his tired eyes for a brief moment to see a crazy man hovering over him waving a can of diet soda within inches of his face. He rolled his eyes as if to say “get lost weirdo” then quickly resumed his afternoon siesta. By the way, I have no idea what Bob’s real name is so that’s what I named him. Everyone’s got a name, right? Well, it was apparent this guy wasn’t giving it up any time soon. I tried reaching out again, but this time to a different set of vagrants.
“LORD,” I sighed deeply. “I don’t want to do this. I mean, what if they laugh at me? I don’t want to look like a fool again!”
Despite the Lord tugging on my heart I still couldn’t shake that old familiar fear of rejection that stemmed from an awful experience with another homeless man just a few years earlier. My wife and I were out driving one day and came upon a typical busy intersection in our neighbourhood. We spotted the same vagabond we’ve seen countless times before panhandling stopped motorists for spare change.
Feeling generous and a bit prideful I turned to my wife and said, “Honey, let’s go buy a few things for that man, and make his day!”
We headed to the nearest grocery store and purchased some food. As we approached the intersection again I quickly jumped out of our vehicle and made my way towards him.
“Hey man! How’s it going?”
“Nice camo jacket!”
“Are you a veteran?”
“What’s your name?”
“You been out here long?”
BAM! BAM! BAM! I overenthusiastically fired one proverbial round after another. Between that and my forceful demeanour this poor guy didn’t stand a chance. He then shyly shifted his attention towards the plastic shopping bags I had set down before him and began rifling through each one. Once his final inspection was complete he handed me back everything except for the gallon jug of drinking water. I stood there for a moment between the intersection of humiliation and regret as it felt like everyone in their vehicle was pointing and laughing at me. Shaking my head I grumbled to myself, “Never again!” That was of course until I met Al.
Remember the group of homeless men at the beginning of this story? Well, I was about to learn an important lesson. I was reminded that whenever we give to the least of these we do the same to Jesus (Mt. 25:34-40). With my red and white cooler now in tow, filled with ice and bottles of drinking water, I fixed my eyes then made my way towards them. Introducing myself I encouraged these men to each takes a bottle of cold water, a refreshing treat from the sweltering summer heat that day.
“Thanks, man! My name is Al.”, one of them uttered.
As I shook his rough and calloused hand all of my fears suddenly melted away. And I saw for the first time a man, like me, made in the image of God. Al and I briefly exchanged some more small talk afterwards, we even shared a laugh or two, and in the weeks that followed we met up several times over coffee until we lost contact.
Looking back I can’t help but wonder what if Jesus had walked away from me shaking His head saying “never again”? Instead, I am eternally grateful to my Savior that He offered me instead to drink of His living waters where I will thirst no more!
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Dennis Miranda is a stumbling soul saved by grace, married to his best friend, the daddy of three, blogger, and retired Marine. Blog: www.runningtowin-pgh.com/write