Encountering God on the Street Picking Up Glass
Our Maryknoll House is an old convent at a parish on a busy corner. As I was pulling into the parking lot it was dark but I noticed a bike on sidewalk and a guy out in the street bent over. I was running a bit late and my first instinct was to ignore it, but I thought he might be hurt, so I went to see if he'd been in a bike accident and needed help.
As I got closer I realized that he was picking up glass in the middle of the lane as cars drove around him. I asked him if he was okay and whether there had been an accident. He told me that as he was riding his bike around the corner he had noticed the glass and stopped to pick it up. I asked him, "Don't you think that's a bit dangerous? Aren't you afraid you're going to get hit by a car? Why are you doing this?"
"I don't want somebody to roll over the glass and get a flat tire." he said with a matter of fact tone. I stood there dumbfounded at first and then slowly realized that the least I could do is stand by him as he knelt in the street so that cars wouldn't hit him.
We continued talking. He asked me if this was my church here on the corner and told me about how he belonged to a small store front evangelical church near by. He told me how that community had welcomed him in off the streets and helped him get into recovery. I could hear in his voice his joy of being sober and off the streets. He told me that all he wanted to do was to "pay it forward." He knew what is was like to get a flat tire and he didn't want anyone else getting a flat. He shrugged off that he was putting himself in harm's way as he continued to pick up the shards and put them in a t-shirt that I assumed was his.
As soon as he was done, he wished me God's blessing and took off on his bike.
The curious thing about an encounter with another is that sometimes when you think you're going to help someone else, it turns out that they are the one who ends up helping you. I'm still baffled at why this good soul would risk his life to clean up someone else's mess without any regard for how it benefited him.
At our Affiliate meeting later that evening, we were reflecting on Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and the goats where Jesus tells us that we will encounter him in the least among us. I had to stop and ponder. By all outward appearances the guy in the street cleaning up glass, who looked to be homeless, seemed to me to be among "the least of us" needing my help. However, as it turns out, he was the one who ministered to me. He showed me what goodness and kindness looks like when it is shared with no expectation of anything in returned; a joy that is freely given because that is the true nature of joy. I realized that it wasn't him, but rather me, who was the "least among us" that needed to experience the face of God's love in midst of busyness.
I wonder how many of these opportunities of encountering God happen in my life each day and I am just too busy or too distracted to be bothered. Or perhaps, because I don't see myself as in need, I miss the opportunity to be ministered to, as I was by the guy in the street.
This Lent, I pray that I am more open to these encounters and that I continue to be surprised and amazed by the ways God is reaching out to me, especially in the unexpected.
Matt Dulka is a Maryknoll Mission Promoter and deacon for the Diocese of Oakland.