For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
~ Matthew 25:35-40
Sometimes I realize I see the world very differently than others. It's okay that I do, and actually, if I were more authentic with how I see the world, I wouldn't spend so much time apologizing when someone says to me, "That makes me feel uncomfortable."
Six years of working on the street with the homeless, spending time under bridges and walking through alleys, changed me. There is no way that it couldn't. In many ways it served as a classroom, and Jesus was teaching. I came to realize that if Jesus were walking the streets today, you wouldn't find him in the hallways where legislators gather. No, you would find him with the marginalized and poor.
This morning I was thinking about the days following the "resettling" of several hundred homeless persons living on the "Pierce Elevated," a raised highway through downtown Houston. In the middle of the night, police raided the area, arresting and loading people into buses where they were moved to areas around the city. Many of the places were abandoned hotels that were condemned. The city managed to open them back up for this "resettlement," so that the property could be used as parking lots for the city's new "Metro" headquarters that was being built downtown.
The following is what happened to one man, who was mentally ill, who I had befriended that lived under the highway.
Darkness had fallen over Houston. Shadows had grown and died. Under a gravel and trash-filled rain grate, light managed to tunnel it's way below through the overpass.
Tired eyes, looked upward, and the man began to pray. Not for himself. Instead it was words that he had learned as a child through multiple prayers, "My God is good. My God is great. Thy kingdom come I will be done. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me. Thank you for this day and my bread I was given. If I die before I wake, heaven is where I will be. Amen."
Just for a moment there was peace. Just for a moment there was silence, until once again a car rolled above, causing metal trim to rapidly "click... click" where seams met.
I sat and watched as the man gathered his treasures close, pulling the blanket a youth group had earlier given as a gift over himself, comb in hand, silently made its way into a gathering of hair, until it no longer moved, and was then left for safe keeping.
"They won't bother it there."
I looked around, not seeing anyone, I just smiled.
"Just stay until I close my eyes," he said. "They won't bother me once I sleep."
Obviously challenged by consciousness, and voices, that managed to interrupt, for most, would seem to be an easy day. Sleep seemed to be the only prescription he could afford.
I don't know what it was about the man that caused me to befriend him. Whether it was the fact he often smiled, even as tears ran down his face, leaving behind reminders of what his face looked like when it was clean and free of the city dust.
Maybe it was because often when I would see him, sharing a sandwich, I knew we would take a moment to pray.
Perhaps it was because this was not the first time I had received an invite to come and visit, up under the overpass, where several people not only stored all their belongings, but managed to find a safe and dry place to sleep.
It was the realization that this man was my brother, who loved me as Christ loved. Unconditionally.
The hopes and dreams of this brother had been shaped by abuse, washed over by rain clouds, and brought into the light by police who warned the man that the place where he stayed was private property and to "move along" when someone complained about "those men" urinating in public and that it "smelled."
I didn't witness most of this, however, I do remember a call one night about three am, when police and social workers, under the direction of a city agency who claimed the property, we're given the okay to "re-settle" all those who lived under the overpass.
My thoughts immediately took me back to a conversation I had with a Jewish holocaust survivor who referred to being "re-settled" when people began to complain about "those people." Was this the beginning of a new effort to commit genocide? Only thing was that this involved the poor, mentally challenged, black man that was my brother who loved me unconditionally.
That next day I would search multiple sites, where abandoned and condemned buildings were once again suddenly being opened by city officials, who had made contracts with land owners to forgive taxes and city code violations, to give a new location to "those people" who now urinated in alleys because toilets were dry, and we're beyond repair.
I cried, and I discovered the words of Matthew pounding in my chest with each heart beat.
The same pressure I recently felt when watching children run in the street, while bullets flew, and fists were raised.
"Woe unto those who saw and did nothing," first came as a thought, then a whisper, and now calls out!
Remembering that night years ago, and seeing the streets filled with confusion. Where "those people" is ALL of us!
While we watch, and then struggle to decide which side to claim, our God watches, and I pray, "My God is good. My God is great. Thy kingdom come I will be done. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me. Thank you for this day and my bread I was given. If I die before I wake, heaven is where I will be. Amen."
Through the grate above, where laws litter and politicians claim righteousness, we struggle to see clearly the light, which cannot be overcome. Jesus is whispering, "Woe..."
We must realize that those we see as the least of these, matter.
What violence and hate we perpetuate will dwell on our streets and in our homes.
I am reminded of a man who prayed. I am challenged by a Disciple who was inspired to write. I am moved by a God who is saying, "Woe unto each of us who saw and did nothing...."
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.