Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The Face of Christ
Within the last week I have had the opportunity to visit a mansion that measured 10,000 square feet. I was greeted at the door by the woman of the house, casually dressed and obviously comfortable with her surroundings. She was warm and friendly and very conversational. It was a palace when compared to my lifestyle. Its floor consisted of highly polished marble and the main staircase was a work of art, hand carved and massive. There were more rooms than I could count and there were two garages both of which were air conditioned. The occupants of this magnificent home were just as kind and welcoming as anyone could be. There was no sense that they felt themselves members of the privileged class.
Only a few days later, I was called to an inner city home on a very hot and humid July morning. The contrast between the two homes could not have been greater. Greeting me at the front door was an elderly woman of 92. She looked ragged and worn. She welcomed me to her home, a once magnificent home that was well over 100 years old. In its day, this home must have been every bit as much a showcase as was the aforementioned palace. But the years had not been kind to this building. Years of poverty had taken its toll. It was run down, worn out, very much as its occupant appeared. I'm not sure if this home had ever had the chance to be cooled and comforted by air conditioning. The temperature inside this structure on this oppressively warm morning was well into the 80's.
The owner of the worn out building shuffled from room to room, describing as she went what kind of help she needed. I could not help but allow my imagination roam to days gone by when this house enjoyed all its grandeur. Now, there was nothing but clutter and dirt. There was an unpleasant odor of rancid cooking grease everywhere. The sunlight streamed through windows that had there last washing apparently years ago. My heart went out to the elderly woman who, despite her surroundings, managed, somehow, to keep her dignity.
Part of me wanted to run from the run-down home because it was an unpleasant experience. In contrast, I would have found it very easy to take up residence in one of the palace's air conditioned garages! The sad thing is that the physical distance between these two old homes is no more than three or four miles. However, the lifestyles that the residents of each domicile exist in are light years apart.
God has given me this opportunity to realize that we can find the face of Christ in both places. It is very easy to see and experience it in the palace. There is a level of comfort there that is undeniable and very attractive. On the other hand, just across town, in the dreary home in which the elderly woman survived, comfort was the least of concerns. Survival was the most important thing. But here, too, is the face of the Savior. It was easy to spot in the lap of luxury. But it was very difficult to find in the squalor of the run-down home.
Admittedly, I was at first repulsed by what I found at the elderly woman's home. I wanted to make quick work of my visit and be out of there as fast as possible. It was hard to look into those aging eyes, realizing only partially, what it must be like to be her. What must it be like to struggle so desperately from day to day just to survive? And on these extraordinarily hot summer days, how, I wondered, did she ever make it through one day?
As time went on during my visit to the ninety year old's home, I began to look past the abject poverty that now enveloped me. And to my surprise, I found the face of Christ amidst the filth and desperation that were a part of the home as much as the highly polished marble floor was of the palace. I realized that through both these experiences God had led me to experience His Son in very different settings. I saw the dignity of Christ in the palace, His glory and strength symbolized by this home's stature and polish. In the old, nearly falling down home, I experienced the face of Christ in the poverty of the moment. Here was a representative of Mother Theresa's poor of Calcutta. Here was the face of Christ on the Cross, impoverished, totally without possession, waiting for me to embrace Him.
It would have been easy to embrace the dignified Christ and very important that I do so. Just because someone is wealthy does not mean that they deserve my scorn or suspicion either out of jealousy or envy. It was not easy, however, to embrace the face of Christ in the home where poverty resided.
These incidents have allowed me to examine my faith more deeply. I talk a good game, but where is my faith at this point in reality. Is my faith one of action or just hollow words? Do I practice Jesus' reminder to us that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to Him? And if I do practice that, to what degree?
We must all walk our own path and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the development and growth of our faith. I feel very privileged to have had these experiences because they are signs of God's love for me as unworthy as I am of it.
Think of times in your life when you had concrete reality present itself in such a way as to prompt an inner search for just how faithful you are and how committed you are to embracing Christ through all of humanity. It is a courageous act, indeed, not entered in upon lightly. I do not know where these experiences will lead me and the faith I have been given as a gift by our Father, but I do know that, once again, He has shown me the depth of His love.