I could tell she was moved, deeply so, by her encounter with him. A time you set out to be kind and walk away knowing you received more than you gave. Her words about his dirty hands hung with me long after our conversation.

I saw Marissa* when I got on the plane. She was a flight attendant, a friend from my former church. I hadn’t seen her in awhile, and, pre-covid, we hugged, did a quick catch-up and I went to my seat. 

The flight was fairly empty and, after doing her service run, she came and sat down with me. We caught up on our families and then started talking about our ministry on Colfax. She followed what we were doing, read my blogs, and felt convicted about her role in serving the poor in her own way and place. 

As a flight attendant, she often overnights, staying in hotels in city centers, areas where street-level homeless hang out. Conviction would tug at her heart, but she was properly cautious and careful, a beautiful woman walking alone in the city. 

One day, she saw a man on a sidewalk, clearly homeless, and walked over to say hi and connect with him (yes, it is often that simple). They talked, a good, life-giving conversation, and before she left, she suggested prayer. 

They joined hands. She noted how dirty his hands were; no wonder, when you live on the street. No doubt he was rattily dressed, smelled with the peculiar odor of the homeless, may have been drunk or high, likely displayed signs of mental illness. 

There they stand, on a city center sidewalk, a beautiful, middle-class suburban woman holding hands with a street level homeless man. What a contrast. Try to see it for a moment in your own minds eye. Two very different worlds, meet for a few moments, the hand-holding a sign of unity, even intimacy across a great divide.  

Then, something surprising happened, something she did not expect, something that obviously touched her deeply. 

He offered to pray for her. 

Understand that this is a striking shift. Usually, those of us who are the “haves,” when convicted to connect with the “have nots,” think we need to come as the givers, the blessers, the prayers. Even when well intentioned, it sets us above the poor, graciously descending to their level to help them, even if just for a moment, offering our kind prayers into their desperate situation. 

The problem is that this often further demeans people who are already demeaned, further shames them when their whole life is filled with shame at the wreckage they live. All they can do is be receivers of love from others. 

His offer to pray and her acceptance of it does something profound. It levels the playing field between “have” and “have not.” It creates a moment when they could simply stand together, two equally valuable and broken people, both in need of the grace that only Jesus can bring. Holding hands. Praying together. 

I thought of her tone and the look on her face when she said his hands were dirty. There was no revulsion, no disgust that her kind gesture meant that she had to put up with potential germs deposited on her clean, beautiful hands. Instead her words and look made it seem as though she viewed his dirty hands as a gift, a minor thing to deal with when the chance for loving connection presents itself. 

My faith heroes are people who went to the broken and the poor, unconcerned about their own comfort and well-being, willing to not only be in their space, but also willing to hold hands, hug and love. 

A famous story is that of Father Damien. He went, as a Catholic priest, to live among the inhabitants of a leper colony. Unafraid of both the “unclean” label that hung over him and the potential of exposure, he lived with them as a friend. He gave and received love. Eventually, he too became a leper; it is said that on the day he announced it to those gathered for worship, he simply stood up and said, “We lepers.” Not “You lepers.” “We lepers.” Now, at a new level, the gap between “have” and “have not” further erased. 

The Bible reveals small details that tell big truths. Jesus, early in the Gospel of Mark, is approached by a leper who cries out to Him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus heals the leper. But the sequence of events is striking. Before He heals him, He touches him. Unheard of. If He was going to heal him, why not do it before He touched him? Cleaner that way

Here is why: Jesus wanted to show He was unafraid of the man’s leprosy and lack of cleanliness, that He was willing to touch him in the ugliest place in this man’s life, that he mattered to Jesus even while he was yet a leper. And, Jesus knew the importance of physical touch, that touch in itself was part of the healing He gave to this man. 

Who are the people in your life, people who may appear to be “have-nots” to your “have,” that need you to walk up to and say hello (yes, it can be that easy)? Whose hand’s are dirty? Who are the lepers? The outcast, the overlooked, the ignored, the lonely? Will you walk over and say hello? Will you treat them with respect, as an equally beautiful and broken part of God’s creation? Will you find some way to level the playing field? Will you ask them to pray for you? 

Try it. You just might discover Jesus when you do, the Jesus who shows up, as Mother Theresa said, “in the distressing disguise of the poor.” That’s what happened to Marissa. She met Jesus in that man. 

Try it. It just might change your life!

*Name changed for privacy