The story goes like this. Hired to be the pastor at a 10,000 member church, on the day he was to be introduced to the congregation and preach his first sermon, he arrived looking like a homeless person — dirty clothes and skin, unkempt beard, tattered hat. He walked around his new church for half an hour before the service; a grand total of three people talked to him. He asked people for change and none gave him any. He sat in the front of the church and ushers asked him to move to the back. And when the elders of the church asked the congregation to welcome their new pastor.
“We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.
The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him.
He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
“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.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame.
He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”
It turns out that the story is an urban legend. But so what? The point of the story remains a powerful one and should make us question ourselves. I wonder if a homeless person would have been treated any differently at a meeting of any atheist or humanist group in the country? If a homeless person showed up at one of our meetings, how would we react? I’m ashamed to admit that I would probably avoid him, avert my eyes, try to relieve the awkwardness. I bet most of us would. It’s so much easier to write a check to a charity than to deal with people face to face.