I close my eyes and say: A poor man shambled up to me the other day, gnawing his finger and looking at me out of the corners of his eyes, muttering something about whether I would give him some money. My heart rose up to forbid him and I turned away, muttering something myself about not having any small bills. I knew I should have had compassion on him but I was embarrassed at his insistence, at the way his socks stuck out the sides of his tattered shoes like little polyps of dirty cotton, at the wary animal light in his eyes that turned instantly to mild hatred as soon as the tone of my voice answered his question, at the oblique angles of our bodies to each other since it would have been unthinkable somehow for us to square off. I knew he was made in Your image; why did I so callously step on the pieces that were left of it? Why could I not love him?
He says: You could not love him because you are too poor.
What do You mean? I wonder.
He sighs. It’s not what you think. The poor you will always have with you. But at least they know they are poor. Your problem is that you think you are rich, you have prospered, and you need nothing.
I recoil, fairly sure I have heard Him say that before. I say: But You have provided so graciously for us. I try to thank You every day, and have a grateful heart.
He looks at me lovingly. So you do, He says. But a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
I know that, I say.
Do you? He answers gently. What would you do if I asked you to give it all away?
I would do it.
So you would. He looks more intently at me. Why do people chase so hard after money, anyway?
Because it allows us to have what we want, I admit. But I really do want the Kingdom of Heaven.
Yes you do, you ask Me for that every day. The light in His eyes is unbearable now. What would you do if I asked you to share your wealth with someone you barely even knew?
I look down. I think I would, I say softly.
What would you do if I asked you to live your life closer to people, even people like that, than you prefer to?
I don’t even think about looking up. I cannot answer Him.
He says: Do you remember why I became a man?
So we could do this, I say. So we could talk face-to-face and I would not have to be afraid of You anymore.
That is a very good answer, He beams, and feeling the warmth of His pride in me I suddenly want to cry. It takes all of my 41-year-old emotional fortitude not to.
Yours is a godly fear now. But do you remember when I told you that if you wanted to follow Me, the Way would be narrow? He says.
Yes. I hesitate, then continue hurriedly: But I cannot help this guy, he is stuck in cycles of poverty and my money will not fix his problems and whatever I do for him will pretty much evaporate by tomorrow. It won’t do any good!
He doesn’t exactly frown, but the smile disappears for an instant: Do you remember what I did for you yesterday?
Yes I do, I answer stoutly. You helped me apologize to someone I had hurt badly with my words.
The smile reappears, but it is either half sarcastic or half laughing, I cannot tell which. He says: It seems that whatever I did for you yesterday has pretty much evaporated by today.
What do You mean? I stammer, astonished.
Do you know how badly you hurt Me just now when you said that you did not care about him? How long My Spirit has labored in your heart for you to be able to move toward him in compassion when you met him? Because you do know that whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for Me.
I am stricken, and it seems that a cloud has passed between us. No, I say. I’m really sorry. I can go give him some money if You want me to.
You still don’t get it, do you.
No! I shout, frustrated and angry now. I can’t do everything You want, I’m not You, I’m not perfect, I don’t even WANT to get close to everyone that You want to get close to.
OK, that’s not really true. I clear my throat and roll my eyes: I may not want to, but I do want to want to.
We can start there, He smiles.
I say: But I need Your help. I can’t do it.
I say: And I need You to forgive me for screwing that up so badly. And for yelling at You.
I already have.
I say: And I need You to stay close to me so I don’t do it all again.
He laughs out loud now: Is this the part where I mutter something about not having any small bills?
And I laugh too, now, noticing that everything seems to have brightened between us again. Did it really have to be this hard? I ask.
Yes, he says. Like a camel through the eye of a needle. His voice is fading, and I know that our time is coming to a close: Remember what I told you, He says.
What? I strain after Him to hear as He replies: Blessed are the poor in spirit.
And He is gone.
For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. I smile, and open my eyes.
Confessional note: I am a cessationist and believe that all revelation is complete in Scripture. But it can be helpful to think about what a conversation with my Lord might sound like under certain circumstances, and in the longing of 1 Cor 13:12 these thoughts are offered. And if anyone does not divine that these words are much more autobiographical than not, we are perhaps not yet close enough for them to know me well.
Photo credit: P. Wentworth