‘For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am.” – 1Corinthians 15: 9-10.
It is a phrase we heard from our elders when we were growing up and a phrase which at least some of us Baby Boomers incorporated within our own standby observations: “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Its origin is believed to have been something similar to it said by John Bradford in the mid 16th Century, himself paraphrasing the above cited words written by Paul to the Corinthians.
It is, above else, an expression of humility, the potential for it inherent within us all, but these days sadly manifested within far too few. That’s one of many things about us humans I would change had I the power, for it is a trait that just seems to erase a great many societal problems upon its arrival.
All that, I guess, to say this: What you are about to read is not about me. Should any credit to me or criticism of me wrongly flow from it, then I have failed in its writing, for it is really about us all and following on the heels of the holiest of weeks to one of the world’s great religions, it strikes me as being altogether fitting and proper.
On Palm Sunday, on the day all four of the gospels say that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem amid much anticipation and hosannahs, a man knocked on my front door having arrived in a van that’s seen its better days and one which he allowed “only starts when it is of a mind to.” In retrospect, the symbolism doesn’t seem forced.
He lives in it – the van, that is, with the two dogs that apparently make up the caring branch of his family – this Sunday morning visitor of mine – certainly absent the first hosannah. Something tells me there has been a dearth of hosannahs upon his arrival anywhere in his 65 years on this Earth.
To say he was down-and-out would be to invoke the chorus of “Mr. Bojangles” to begin softly playing in your head.
The superior ladies who make up the staff at the Sharkey-Issaquena County Library had telephoned me about my visitor late Friday afternoon. They knew him, they said, but he had fallen on tough times, they said, and he was homeless. They didn’t think that either he or his dogs had eaten for a while, they said, and these women who receive far too little compensation for the enormous amount of good they have done for years in this community, reached into their pockets and gave what they could – enough for him to get a meal, enough to buy a bag of dog food. Enough, if you believe his teachings, to make Jesus smile.
And after he’d left, one of them called me. “He needs some help, some real long term help, and nobody’s offering it. We don’t know who else to call,” she said, “so I am calling you.” And you know, that is ok. That is all right because the newspaper editor in small Southern towns has traditionally been the person people call when they don’t know who else to call.
And so, I started making calls. One lady whom I know to be in the helping people business couldn’t in this instance but referred me to another such person who said he didn’t know if he could help but would try when he got back from out of town.
And then I called the man himself on the battered old prepaid cellular flip phone that represents his only means of contact with the rest of the world, these days. I’m guessing one’s social network could be a tad limited when his base of operations is a semi-broke down van in a park.
The man told me his story on that Palm Sunday morning, certainly his own in detail, but thematically not significantly different from far too many I’ve heard over the years, though his was atypically related in proper English. I found that not insignificant and it struck me that this man was down-and-out, but this man was not low down.
I helped him a bit with his immediate problems and perhaps provided him some hope toward solving his longer term one (a homeless shelter) and for that I merit not the first plaudit, for I have done nothing beyond that which we all should, yet for some reason (perhaps a good one, I know not) the folks who normally lend helping hands were not so eager to in this case.
And I am sure that the multitude of far more sterling Christians than am I, know that in Proverbs 31: 8-9 we are advised:
“Speak up for those who cannot help themselves.
for the rights of those who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
So wonder why so many of them forgot that as to make this pitiful fellow end up with the likes of me?
After all, when it came to helping the less fortunate, I don’t recall Jesus’ adding so fine a distinction as, “those we deem worthy of it, that is.”