While Jesus was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him. Luke 5:12-13
I caught a glimpse of her petite frame out of the corner of my eye. My red car rolled to a stop, as I helplessly watched Maria, my homeless neighbor, struggle to push the cart filled with all her earthly possessions across the street. Once again the rubber on the front wheels was nearly worn off, exposing the metal beneath. It was the end of a long day and I was anxious to get home. Instead, I turned around and headed to a nearby store. As I drove away, I quietly prayed, "Lord Jesus, please take care of Maria." (Click Maria's name to read Part 1)
My heart ached all the way to the store to buy a new cart. Lord, how else can I help her? Certainly the cart would be a blessing, but I longed to do more. I regretted not learning more Spanish so I could talk with her. As it was, even if I could ask her about what she might need, I wouldn't be able to understand her answers.
The words of Jesus haunted me, Love your neighbor as yourself. I wondered, How would I want to be loved? For one thing, I would want to know that I wasn't alone---that I was seen, cared about, and loved. In the store, I purchased the cart, then put it in my car and drove back to the place where my eighty-year-old neighbor camps out many nights. On my way, I imagined what it would look like to show love to this wandering soul. I pictured how I could keep her company. Perhaps, I could walk beside her as she shuffled, day after day, through the streets of our neighborhood. Or, I could push her cart or simply sit beside her and offer to hold her hand. I even envisioned gently combing out the tangles in her matted, lice-infested hair.
Jesus seemed to seek out the company of the downtrodden. He wasn't afraid to touch the sick or the lepers. Oh, how I longed to be like Him. But, to be honest, more often than not, I have recoiled from Maria and others like her because of their soiled clothing or the stench that assaulted my senses or for fear of the lice that filled their hair.
I parked my car near the place where I had seen Maria earlier. I grabbed the new cart and rolled it next to her old one. I pointed to it, then to her. She pointed to the cart, then to herself. I shook my head, and answered, "yes, this is for you." Compassion filled my heart as I looked at her weathered face and into her sagging eyes. Then, something happened. She leaned toward me and I reached for her, and I hugged her. It was a long, tender embrace. And, in that moment, I didn't smell the foul odor or care about her filthy clothes or even fear the lice on her head. Amazingly, I felt God's love for her and His for me. It was a holy hug, as if God Himself were in our midst.
Reluctantly, I pulled away and she turned her attention toward her new cart. My eyes burned with tears, as I walked back to my car. I spoke to her in English, "I love you. I am praying for you." I don't know if she understood my words, but I prayed she too felt God's love in our hug. And, I hoped, she knew that she was not alone.
I looked at Maria one more time. I watched as she removed the grey beanie off of her head, and ran her fingers through her hair. Maybe someday I could comb her hair for her. On my way home, I prayed I wouldn't get lice. But, in my own weak faith (and for the benefit of others I give hugs to), I stopped at another store where I bought special shampoo. Later, at my house, I threw my clothes in the washing machine and shampooed my hair. However, I realized even though I was back to normal on the outside, I was forever changed on the inside. Because, Jesus had given me an opportunity to show His love and compassion to my neighbor as I hoped someone would show love and compassion to me if I were the homeless one.
When you think of Maria, would you remember to keep her, and others like her, in your prayers. Perhaps, God has even placed someone like Maria in your life. Pray that He will show you ways to touch them with His love, and I can guarantee you will be blessed as well.