This morning on the subway I was thinking of that passage from Matthew about how when you do something for “the least of these,” you do it for Jesus.
I’d been wondering–praying–how I would know which of “the least of these” I would be able to help. It can be overwhelming.
Getting out of the train at Fulton Street, I hustled to work, walking right by a homeless guy’s cardboard sign and his cup of change.
I’d gone half a block before I turned around. Was this “the least of these?” Whoever he was, you couldn’t see his face under his hood. He was bent over, staring at something in his lap.
I got closer to inspect. He was looking at a small pocket Bible. “Reading something?” I asked.
“Romans,” he said. He looked up. Clear-eyed, forty-ish, a couple days growth of beard, a freckled face.
“Romans is hard,” I said. “I love Romans but some of it I find very hard to understand.” The least of these? I rather feared I was about to get into some theological discussion that would be way over my head.
“I just finished Acts,” he said, flipping back through the pages. “I had never realized how important Paul was. He took Christianity all over the world.” He looked back at his book. “He wrote Romans.”
“And the letters to the Corinthians and Galatians and Thessalonians, and I especially love Philippians. It has some beautiful passages in it. You should read that.” I stopped. I didn’t want to sound preachy.
“I read the Psalms every day,” he said. “They’re my medication. When I get depressed, I read a psalm.”
“I was just praying through one of the psalms on the subway. The psalms always help me too.” I stuck out my hand. “I’m Rick.”
“I’m Frank,” he said. We shook hands.
“Do you have a place to go?” I asked. “Do you stay in a shelter?”
He shook his head. “The shelters are too dangerous. Too many people. I feel safer here on the streets.”
“But it’s getting cold. Saturday it was really cold and rainy. Today is nice, but the weather is getting worse. It’ll be hard to stay outside.”
“I’m saving up. There’s a nice poncho you can buy at the Army/Navy Store. If I get enough money I’m going to buy one of those. And if you have a scarf and gloves, they can really keep you warm.”
I looked down at his cup. Only quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies in it. I wondered how he was going to get this poncho. I stuck my hand in my pocket. I had a couple bucks, but not enough for a poncho. Then I had an idea.
“Frank, you going to be here for a while?”
“Till 10:30. I’m going up to the Rescue Mission. You can take a shower there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They’re really nice there.”
“I’ll be right back.” I’m not sure he believed me. We shook hands again, and I dashed off to the office. We were just working on a story for Guideposts about a charity in California, Hope Mill, that makes up backpacks for the homeless.
Kevin, our photo editor, gave me the backpack we’d used it for a photo shoot. It was full of great things: soap, water, cans of food, toothpaste, toothbrush, gloves, a scarf and at the bottom a poncho for the rain. “I’ve got someone this would be good for.”
I hurried back to Fulton. Frank was still there, bent over his small copy of the Bible. “Here, Frank,” I said. “This is for you.” I showed him what was inside, including the copies of Guideposts magazine and Daily Guideposts.
And then I worried. Maybe it was too much to carry. He had another smaller backpack. “Is it too much?” I asked.
“Not at all,” Frank said. “I’ve got some friends on the street. I can share it with them.”
He thanked me several times. We shook hands a third time. And I told him I’d pray for him. I didn’t tell him that he’d been an answer to my prayer.