I had no cash on me as I raced into my neighborhood market. The plastic card tucked into my cell phone case would be sufficient for two small items.
The sun had just relinquished its claim to the sky, reluctantly handing over its task to the artificial radiance of security lights and neon signs. This changing of the guard went unnoticed by the unusually large number of people who crowded the entryway.
Husbands, on their way home, shopped with lists so short they didn’t have to write them down. Vibrant young adults arrived as couples or in groups, apparently having not yet learned a list saves time and money. A Girl Scout troop, hoping to entice shoppers with their famous cookies and winsome smiles, flanked one side of the sliding door. A solitary figure, sat round-shouldered, cross-legged and alcohol-fogged on the filthy concrete, a counterpoint to the happy and expectant scouts.
Fellow shoppers with cash and a sweet tooth cheerfully greeted the scouts. They paid no more attention to the man on the ground than they did to a misplaced shopping cart they had to step around. I was careful to avoid eye contact with either the Scouts or the derelict. It seemed easier than explaining I had nothing to give.
I was dismayed to discover nothing had changed by the time I left the store. No Good Samaritan had brought a hungry man food or helped him on his way. He continued to sit there, while I, heartsick over the scene, escaped quickly to my car--feeling more and more like the hypocritical priest and Levite who hurried past the robbed and beaten man in the parable in Luke.
“Really, now,” I argued with the inner voice that is not my own. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Give him the gift of human dignity. Look him in the eye. Acknowledge he is a person.”
I retraced my steps across the parking lot. Hoping to make our encounter less awkward, I had retrieved cash from the emergency stash in my car. It wasn’t much, but it was what I had. A store employee confirmed the man had been there an hour. No one else had talked to him.
I knelt beside the man so I could look him in the eye. I asked if he was all right—if he needed help. He said he was hungry. I slipped my meager offering into his hands, hoping he would buy food but suspecting he wouldn’t. The help he needed was beyond my ability to give.
I said I would pray for him—and I meant it. He challenged me, asking if I knew how to really pray. I assured him I did, and he began, “Our Father.” Together we said the Lord’s Prayer, word by word, line by line, outside on the concrete amid the noise of shoppers and Scouts. Few sanctuaries have ever seemed as sacred.
He took my hand and touched it to his head. We connected, one child of God with another, and then I was free to go. “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have that I give you.”