A few weeks ago on a warm July day, a friend and I ate lunch in the outside section of an ethnic restaurant. As we ate, a man stopped and asked us for money. My friend responded, “I can’t give you money but we’ll buy you lunch. Have a seat and eat with us.” He seemed hesitant to do so , but he took a seat; we called the server to give him a menu and he ordered the special of the day at my friend’s suggestion.
He was not sure what to say or do, but my friend very pleasantly asked about his family and I asked where he was from. In the course of conversation he told us he had spent the past year in a nursing home and had just been released a few weeks earlier.
We asked him why he had spent such a long time and his answer was, “I have cancer, but the medication keeps it under control.”
We chatted a little more, his food came, and he started to eat. Then he said, “You guys are really nice to do this for me. I have not told you the truth about my condition. I have Aids and that’s the reason I have been in a nursing home. It is easier to say I have cancer because people see me differently if I tell them I have Aids. But you guys are nice and respectful and I wanted to be truthful with you.”
We talked a little longer, he thanked us again for lunch, and we went on our way.
I think it is difficult to know how to respond to those who have no place to live or not enough money to buy food. People wanting money are camped out at busy intersections with their “homeless” signs as well as on the busy streets of our cities. Sometimes we ignore them or give them a couple of dollars; sometimes, if we have prepared ahead of time, we give them a bag of personal items from the backseat of our car.
Sharing a meal with a person in dire straits may not only feed the body, but personal conversation feeds the spirit. After a few minutes, our new friend felt comfortable sharing a part of his personal life that he would not ordinarily share. He needed food, but he also needed someone to take a moment and show that they cared.
If Jesus were here today and walking our busy streets, I see him eating lunch not in the Banker’s Club but with a beggar in the closest Wendy’s. I see him stopping and encouraging the one standing on the street corner with his cardboard sign. Jesus tended to seek out those in need and minister to them as he went from village to village.
He often spoke of helping those in unfortunate circumstances, such as in Luke 6:30-31, part of which we often refer to as The Golden Rule. The story of the Good Samaritan proclaims that a neighbor is anyone in need (Luke 10:25-37.)
Probably too many times I do not follow through with sharing a meal or taking the time for conversation with a person like the one in this story. I have to admit, however, that I feel the best about myself after I have had lunch with a stranger who has become my neighbor.