Last year we were on a group walking tour through a European city, only half paying attention to the guide’s overly enthusiastic detailed commentary about old uninteresting history.
My wife then pointed him out to me. With legs outstretched he was precariously perched on the edge of a stone bench in this large public square.
A shell of his former self
A sad pathetic figure in filthy rags so dirty they shone, and in their filth the skin on his hands did also.
This nondescript man of indeterminate age (late 40s early 50s perhaps) with chin on chest lurched slightly forward in a fitful and no doubt uncomfortable doze, only to correct his forward lean and regain his near-unconscious upright sitting position.
A pair of decrepit sandals fit only for the garbage tip were his foot wear. Sleeping rough was no doubt uncomfortable, cold and sometimes wet.
Loosely clasped and finely balanced between right thumb and forefinger was a half empty small bottle of unknown plonk.
What was it like?
Standing bored near the back of the pack I tried to quickly process this awful scene of degraded humanity.
Whilst pondering how miserable life must have been for him with long monotonous lonely days and nights, I recalled that he was once a mother’s tiny babe, hopefully loved, with her hopes, dreams and expectations embracing him. Perhaps he was a brother. What of his father and wider family?
How and why had this happened? Why him and not me? To be born with the then dormant monster of alcoholism residing within, aroused during the drift into adulthood, is not the fault of the sufferer.
As with each of us God had ‘knitted him together’ in the secrecy and security of his mother’s womb. Jesus had brought heaven down, died and risen victoriously for him too.
Jesus still seeks
During earthly life Jesus said that: The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have Me. (Matthew chapter 26 verse 11).
Just as quickly as we had come upon this shocking sight our guide had moved on and we had to catch up to stay with the group ‘else we too could easily have become lost ourselves.
It’s clear that any of us can be (and many are) spiritually lost without being reduced to this poor man’s physical state, although he was almost certainly also spiritually lost.
The Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke chapter 18 verse 10). Someone is ‘lost’ when they are precious and valuable to their Seeker who wants to deeply relate to them but they don’t.
Jesus always knows where they are although tragically many/most (?): ‘refuse' to come to Me to have life. (John chapter 5 verse 40). They don’t seek Him and so probably don’t find Him. Even if not physically lost, they are lost from God.
Nearing the end
We were nearing the end of our cruise, the second part of our holiday. On the second last evening before the others arrived for dinner I suggested to one couple that perhaps we could take up a collection for our evening food and drink waiters who had served us so well. On the final night my suggestion was put to the other four diners but met with stony silence.
So we quietly gave our own expression of appreciation for their great service. And do not forget…to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews chapter 13 verse 16).
From conversations over the previous week it seemed that our well-healed Aussie dinner table companions were as spiritually lost as the ‘bench man’.
Jesus’ sober warning came to mind that everyone hears God’s word at some time, perhaps at a wedding, baptism or funeral but: the worries of this life, the ‘deceitfulness of wealth’ and the desires for other things come in and choke the word making it unfruitful. (Mark chapter 4 verse 19).
The other things may reflect the commonplace name-dropping one hears on cruise ships, including ours: ‘when we were in Portugal last year’ or ‘the third time we were in Switzerland recently’.
For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has ‘and does’ - comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John chapter 2 verse 16).
The ‘deceitfulness’ of wealth Jesus warns about may include the distracting comfort of a healthy bank balance such that we lose sight of the true meaning and purpose of life.
Instead of being generous combined with at least some understanding of the life and lot of others, we can become insular, stingy and selfish, such as calling for the menu to calculate our share to the cent when the table account arrives.
His daily grind
The daily routine of our diminutive jovial Indonesian cabin steward involved servicing/refreshing eighteen cabins each day, working a twelve hour split shift for eight months straight.
On one occasion an obviously educated steward quietly, courteously and respectfully said to me that whilst us tourists were enjoying our holiday, for him and his colleagues the ship was merely a steel prison.
The usual counter-argument raised that at least a cruise ship job gives that person an opportunity s/he may not otherwise have had in the Philippines, India or Myanmar is merely weak self-justification for tightfistedness.
A life lived without God begets much striving for emptiness, and Jesus warns: Watch out. Be on your guard against all kinds of greed: a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke chapter 12 verse 15).
Gavin Lawrie is a retired Barrister and Solicitor from Tweed Heads NSW Australia and author of the book: 'THE EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION: Uncovering The Faulty Science Of Dawkins' Attack On Creationism'. He is married to Jan with two adult children and they are grandparents.
Gavin Lawrie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/gavin-lawrie.html