The other day, a friend of mine began to tell me about an experience that had happened to him recently.
“I was walking to catch my bus from uni, along North Terrace, and I saw a homeless guy just standing on the corner. He was pretty old, and had a long white beard. But just before I’d passed him, I’d watched him make the sign of the cross – I don’t think he was making it to anybody in particular.”
“You don’t see that every day.” I said.
“No. So anyway, then I walked on. But as I was walking, I started to get this feeling. I got the sense that God, well, the Holy Spirit in me, wanted me to go back to the guy.”
This was pretty intriguing! I asked him what exactly he thought the Holy Spirit had wanted him to do.
“Well, it was kinda specific. The day was Monday, and my wife had given me some food – dry biscuits and some fruit-in-jars – for me to have for lunch throughout that week. I hadn’t got to my office yet, so they were still in my bag. I got the sense that God wanted me to go back to the guy and give him my food.”
“Wow. Okay. So did you go?” I asked.
“Well, there was more than that, actually…”
“Yup. I also got the sense that God wanted me to get a blessing from him.”
Now, that was surprising. Receiving blessings is not something people from our part of the Christian tradition would usually do.
“So, did you go?” I asked again.
“Not at first,” he said. “But then my wife rang, and she told me how she’d just picked up a bargain in Glenelg (a swanky seaside suburb here in Adelaide), and now she and my daughter were sitting on the beach, eating ice-cream.”
Now, I know my friend’s wife and kid – they’re hardly at Glenelg every day spending frivolously. I told him that he shouldn’t feel guilty.
“I know. I don’t think it was guilt. More gratitude. There was also a sense that if I did it, I’d be encountering something, um, special, sacred. So I turned around, and started walking to this guy. Every step I took, I was saying to myself, ‘You idiot, this is pointless!’ I was half-hoping that the guy had moved on. But he hadn’t.”
“So what happened when you met him?” I asked eagerly.
“Well,” my friend looked at me shyly, “I pulled out some of the biscuits and a jar of fruit…”
“Wait! Some of the biscuits, and one jar of fruit?” I asked.
“Er, yeah. I dunno, I just panicked. But when I handed them to him, you know what he said?”
“He said to me, ‘Too Much!’. I, I was just astonished by that. I felt like it wasn’t enough. And I kinda felt like, his response was too much, for me. He was generous with his gratitude at my generosity. I didn’t deserve that. I suddenly felt grateful.”
“Wow. I can see that.” I said.
“And when I looked into his eyes as he said it, he was so happy. It made me see how God is so happy with the things we do for Him, even though they are so utterly inadequate. And how the happiness He feels at what we do is so gracious. The things we do are so minuscule, really. Yet He seems to say ‘Too much!’. I kinda saw Him saying that to me in the old man’s voice. It was pretty humbling.”
“That was funny.” My friend smiled. “I asked him for a blessing, and then he looked at me, and he said, ‘English, or Latin?’ I wasn’t expecting that! I’d thought he was some uneducated, crazy homeless guy. I stammered and told him that he could choose.”
“So what did he say?”
“He said, ‘In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.’ Then I bowed my head, smiled, we patted each other on the shoulder, and I began to leave. Then he said, ‘The Lord be with you.’ I turned, a bit surprised, and said, ‘Er, and also with you.’ Then that was that.”
My friend then told me how he felt a burning in his chest for the rest of the day, and ruminated on that moment for many days since. And I was left thinking how generous, and sacred, some moments in life can be.