We often have lunch with friends after church. On a recent Sunday four of us sat outside one of the small cafés near the Cathedral. The weather was on the turn and the table umbrella was deployed against the threatening rain.
We were eating well: free-range eggs and bacon, sautéed mushrooms, organic spinach and tomatoes, all on artisan sourdough. There was even a smashed avocado or two.* Plus great coffee, of course. What’s not to like?
As we chatted, a woman of ‘a certain age’ as the French might say, approached us. Neatly dressed in a cheap grey dress and thin black cardigan, her gold-coloured shoes gaped on her feet – probably secondhand. Her short dark hair was neatly styled. She wore no make up. On one wrist she carried a battered beige handbag with a broken zip. No rings, no jewellery, no watch.
She looked tired. No. More than tired – her face told of real weariness.
‘Excuse me, could you help me please?’
She had our attention.
Could anyone spare $4 for a bus fare? Would we mind?It seemed that there was no credit on her green bus card and the driver refused to let her board.
We glanced at each other. Four dollars wasn’t much – that would buy a cup of coffee.
She looked hopeful, telling us that she had just come from the hospital, having shock treatment in the psych ward; she needed the bus fare to get back. Her story didn’t quite add up, because the hospital was just one city block away.
As she talked we rummaged in our wallets but all we could rustle up between us was three $1 coins. Who uses cash these days? It’s all eftpos or tap’n’go.
She stood quietly, saying nothing. In the awkward silence I followed her gaze to my wallet. Suddenly I was aware of a $20 note in plain view among my cards. No-one spoke. Without hesitating I drew out the $20 and handed it to her. She was taken aback, but accepted it.
‘Get yourself a coffee and perhaps some lunch on the way to the bus.’ I couldn’t not give it to her.
As she walked away I felt a pang of shame.
Here were four friends who could enjoy a nice lunch together, without being too bothered by the cost and apparent extravagance.
This was no big deal for us.
As I watched her I wondered what must it take for a neat and tidy, middle-aged woman to approach strangers to ask for just $4? I suspect she had done this before; perhaps it was a habit.
But who were we to judge her motive? Or whether she was telling the truth, the whole story?
I prayed silently and said ‘bless you’ as she left.
It got me thinking about Jesus’ approach to people. If Jesus had been sitting with friends, chatting and eating, as he often did, would he have shunned such a person?
Sometimes sharing Jesus with someone is not at all obvious.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes it does not require words. But it should be …no,MUST be…implicit in our actions. And it should be unconditional.
I do pray that this weary soul, and others I come across in difficultand unexplained circumstances felt a little something of Jesus’ grace and kindness on that stormy afternoon.
*It’s an Australian thing. Young families are admonished for eating smashed avocado on toast when they can’t afford to save money for a house.
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She is in the community of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html