Warm bread. Not quite the gourmet meal, but it is cheap, easy to eat on the run, and I like the warmth on my fingertips. This was dinner, again.
My companion, Sister Gustafson, and I were enjoying this simple meal while resting on the garden ledge in the center of Warsaw when he approached us. He being a 56 year old homeless man. His face was scared and filled with fresh wounds from a resent fight and the skin on his hands were a dirtier shade than the leathered burnt rest.
I have seen this happen enough to know what he wanted: pieniądze. Money. I had no coins and to be honest even if I had I do not think I would have given him some anyways. Simply, a week prior I had a very unfriendly encounter with a homeless woman pulling me into an underground metro stop in attempts at stealing my soup I had made for a sick missionary. I was not in the mood to put up with another unpleasant encounter so I hardened my face and refused to make eye contact.
This surely would get him to leave and bother someone else.
Yet, non-coincidentally the thought crossed my mind only moments before this man made his approach, “If Jesus were here in Warsaw, like I am now, what would he be doing?” “Who would he be with?” Various answers were being mulled through as he came over.
Sure it occurred to me he would be the “poor in spirit,” the “humble,” the “meek,” but that couldn’t possibly mean the drunk, the aggressive, and violent homeless people that clutter these streets with their “money for beer” signs.
Wouldn’t Jesus be with his missionaries, who have given so much up to share his work? Wouldn’t we be slightly more worthy in his presence after all we have dedicated to him?
“you can smile, I’m not that scary” he said in Polish.
I looked up and made eye contact. He seemed sober, harmless, and his oder was not abrasive so I spoke back. Polite yet still cold.
“I’m sorry but I do not have any money to give, and I do not speak much Polish, so I won’t be of much help.”
His face lit up, “is your native language English? My kids speak some English, you would like them, they are older now and one of my sons lives in England.“
This hosted some friendly chit-chat and we invited him to sit and join us as we offered him some warm bread and my unopened bag of skittles. Things led to another and I asked our now friend, Irek, how he ended up on the street.
“Well, I am an idiot. I cheated on my wife with this woman,” he opened his shirt to show us a beautiful woman tattooed on his chest. “I lost my family, eventually I lost my job and even she is gone,” he said gesturing “not even repentance could change who I have become.“
I knew that was not true. We have a Savior, who much like his title, can save us. Our discussion of Christ began. We spoke of Christ’s love, of repentance, and of returning to God. My heart became moldable puddy from my once hardened state. By the end of the night, Sister Gustafson and I left that park one Book of Mormon short, with no more bread, and one less bag of skittles.
Upon leaving it was clear to me, if Christ were to be on this very street he would be here with Irek.
Irek was the kind of person the scriptures spoke about, and I too found a place in these stories. I was the Pharisees and the Sadducee. I was the “stiff-necked,” “puffed up,” and the “hard-hearted.” Irek was the humble, the friend of Christ. Yet, he was not some glorious, virtuous, or innocent man who happenstance was poor, he was the sinner. He knew all too well he fell short of earning Salvation. He knew he would never get into heaven alone. He needed a Savior.
Then I, blanketed in pride, felt worthy of the Savior’s love.
Annie Dillard in, Holy the Firm, says,
A blur of romance clings to our notion of “publicans,” “sinners,” “the poor,” “the people in the marketplace,” “our neighbors,” as though of course God should reveal himself, if at all, to these simple people, these Sunday school watercolor figures, who are so purely themselves in their tattered robes.
We are not one-dementional. These stories, these scriptures tell of real people: complex and saturated in everyday challenges, disappointments, and cravings, like the rest of us. Yet, why is it so easy for me to set up two boxes in my mind to sort them.
When have I taken the time to considered the complexities of these people? They are not just “flannel-board versions of biblical people,” like Adam Miller says. They are like you, like Irek, and like I. Flawed, undeserving and unfit.
Yet, regardless, Jesus welcomes us in, offers us warm bread and it is up to us to accept his help, his grace, and his atonement. None of us can earn Salvation.
None of us are worthy.
Artwork by Karl Addison