This past weekend I had the “opportunity” to experience just a piece of the helplessness many of the most vulnerable people in our city experience on a daily basis. This was not a staged learning experience where you know no matter what’s going on it’s only pretend, but instead a situation where you are in the wrong place at the wrong time for just a moment and you feel totally at the mercy of another person.
Last Sunday, our missional community had its biweekly service Sunday where we deliver food to people living in tent cities at different locations throughout our city. Our final stop was near a railroad track with several camps lined in the woods along the side. As our team wrapped up this final food station and prepared to go to our favorite coffee shop to debrief, I heard some commotion back by the tracks. I went back just to make sure everything was alright and saw two trucks driving along the track to deliver firewood to the people living in the camps. Shortly after that the Railroad Police vehicle appeared from behind the tree with lights flashing.
Though we always park off of railroad property when we deliver our meals, my standing on the property at this moment placed me in the middle of the whole situation. From the officers position, he saw six individuals on railroad property (three people delivering wood, two friends who live in the camps, and me). He exercised due diligence and collected all our ID’s in order to run checks on any outstanding violations, warrants, etc. I complied and waited as most of the conversation revolved around one of the individuals delivering firewood. The rest of my team watched from where we were parked, wondering if they would need to back up my story or bail me out of jail. After what seemed like eternity, my ID was returned and I was able to head back with no further problems.
Even though I knew there was little to be concerned about, in a moment like this it is not hard to feel like you are at the mercy of another person. Thoughts about the possibility of a ticket or being detained begin to enter your mind. And for a moment I understood how harassed and helpless my friends without homes feel on a daily basis. They have run-ins like this on a regular basis where they are left at the mercy of another person for their sense of security. There are not only the run-ins with police that they have to be concerned with, but they also deal with any number of strangers every day that could take advantage of them. So, I can’t help but have empathy for their plight.
This makes me think of Jesus entering our crazy world. He lived among an oppressed people. He experienced hardship and injustice. I wonder how many times as a young man he was forced by a Roman soldier to carry the soldier’s equipment before he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:41) How many times did he have his shirt taken before he said, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”? (Matthew 5:40) Jesus identified with the harassed and helpless. He lived among them. He identifies with us when we feel the same way. He’s walked in our world.
So, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus identifies with us in our moments of vulnerability. He can also help us empathize with the most vulnerable citizens among us. For this we can be thankful.