A Startling Encounter

I was completely startled on my way to work one morning this week when what I thought was dropped clothes on the floor turned out to be a homeless man sleeping in our stairwell.

The elevator has been on the fritz for a week or so, with buttons spontaneously lighting up or going out, and if I don’t have anything heavy to carry it’s simpler to just take the stairs. This morning I was heading out to work but noticed the stairwell door was propped open with a hat, just a crack, and when I opened the door further I saw a tshirt on the floor. Matt brought laundry up last night, so my please-make-sense-of-this brain filled in the blanks – Matt dropped some clean shirts out of the basket and forget to turn back to pick them up. But then I saw that the tshirt had arms. And a long white beard. And an open mouth, because the tshirt was on a sleeping man. And I smelled that he was probably homeless.

So I went back into our apartment and told Matt – not that I wanted him to do anything about it, but just so that if the man was still there, Matt didn’t barge through the door down the stairs and step on him or something. And I took the elevator downstairs – stopping on four or five floors for no reason.

I don’t know why I was so flabbergasted by this experience – other than that it was completely unexpected. Why on earth would a homeless man go up to the 11th floor to sleep in a stairwell? Did he take the stairs up or go through the hall from the elevator?

And I’m curious what kind of person he is – if Matt had gone out and woken him up to offer our couch would he have accepted? Or thought we were weirdos who kill vagrants? Would he have stolen from us?

I am extra disturbed because of an idea I read from Dietrich Bonhoeffer this weekend – “…we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people… This is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message.”

As I was thinking about why I so quickly backed away, and would I have done the same if I knew it was Jesus sleeping there, I realized it was because I didn’t know what would happen if he woke up. And then I realized how often I’m not afraid of Jesus and his message, and it isn’t because I’m really spiritual and we’re just tight like that. It’s because I don’t think of Jesus as a real person who is beyond my control; I assume he wants everything I want, and he wants it how I want it too. I never worry that I would get yelled at or stabbed or robbed not only because I trust that he is good but because I assume we would never ever be in conflict.

No tidy conclusion yet, just food for thought and a reminder that when I’m 100% comfortable with my faith I’m probably focused a lot more on myself than on God.

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