It was Sunday and a church was welcoming a new pastor. The elders were set to introduce the pastor and everyone was excited about the big coffee hour that would follow. It being a big Sunday with many people in attendance, a homeless man sat outside the main entrance doors with his shopping cart filled with all of his worldly possessions and a paper coffee cup for donations. He didn’t say much, and most people walked right past him. As the church bells rang, the homeless man pushed his cart into the narthex and started to look for a seat while the organist played the prelude. The ushers showed him to a seat in the rear of the church, rationalizing that the man wouldn’t want to be far from his shopping cart when in truth they were too embarrassed to show him a place of any greater importance.
After the prelude, an elder went to the microphone to announce that this Sunday would be the first Sunday for their new pastor. She read the pastor’s impressive biography and detailed the onerous search process for finding the right pastor. As she read the name of this new clergy person that would be their spiritual leader, the homeless man made his way up the center aisle from the back of the sanctuary.
There was confusion at first. Maybe this man was lost. Maybe he was having a break from reality or needed medical attention. But as he took off his hat and his layers of sweaters, it became clear that the person they all assumed was a “homeless man” was actually their new pastor. He had dressed in old clothes and sat outside to observe the congregation’s reaction. No one had spoken to him, offered him food or money, and no one had welcomed him inside.
It is easy to judge a congregation like this for their lack of compassion. In doing so, we forget that sometimes even Jesus needed reminders that the people standing in front of him were, in fact, people and not the adjectives used to describe them. The woman standing before him was a mother, not simply a Gentile. Her daughter was hurt and suffering, she was not an animal.
This desperate mother used Jesus’s own teaching tactics to hoist a mirror before the Son of God. It is tempting to reduce people to their most outwardly observable characteristics, forgetting that they are the delight of their creator. Even Jesus needed to be reminded of the trap.
Wherever this week takes you, and whoever you encounter, remember that the adjectives describe the child of God. It is not the adjective we serve, but the person.