Ulysses Stephen King Jr.
January 29, 2018
There is an inherent risk and danger in confessing one’s shortcomings, sins, and failures. You expose and open yourself up to people’s judgment, opinions and criticisms of you. Some even find personal benefit by exposing your mistakes. They will claim they always knew these things about you. They will judge your actions as revealing your true character as being flawed and unredeemable. I sincerely hope by sharing my experience with you it will be a teachable moment for you just as it was for me. I did not write it for your judgment, opinion, or criticism of me. Rather, so that I might grow and become a better Christian. Please continue to pray for me.—USK
It’s Saturday and I had been at the church mostly all day working (except for an hour to go have a smog check on my faithful little Toyota Prius. Don’t laugh. I love my car). I had been preparing for worship, and thinking about the sermon I am to give on Sunday. I had been struggling all day and I still couldn’t get a sense of the Spirit’s direction, or feeling of what the Holy Spirit would have me say to His people. I had a lot of nonspiritual matters on my mind, and I just couldn’t get a break through. Frustrated, I left.
After I left my office I came back to my favorite coffee haunt and hangout for another cup of dark roasted coffee and a shot of espresso (no milk or sugar, please). I frequent this place for a time of reflection and respite from work before going home. It’s late in the afternoon and I still don’t have a sermon for tomorrow. Maybe a different location would help clear my mind I thought? Little did I know I would be challenged to think about my Christian witness and bias against those less fortunate than me?
As soon as I sat down this homeless black man walks in and wanders around not saying anything to anyone, looking into the food and beverage case. He looks like he’s in his mid-20s. He obviously had been in the hospital or some mental facility by the medical identity band on his wrist. I’d seen him before. He’s not a bad looking young man. He stood over six feet tall, thin but not skinny, dark complexion, and wore short unkempt dread-locks, but again you had to look close to tell. If he cleaned up I could see young women chasing after him. As a matter of fact, several people had to look twice at him, unsure if he was homeless or not. Sadly, his clothing and appearance gave him away.
After standing for a while looking into the food case he sat down uninvited at a young Hindu Indian lady’s table. He didn’t speak, look, or say anything to her. He sat in a chair across from her while softly tapping on the table. She had been sitting there before I arrived, working on her laptop and drinking her tea. She too was young and looked to be in her 30s. She wore this beautifully colored ghungat that covered her head and draped over her shoulders and down her back. She wore brightly colored silver sandals that made her feet noticeable.
There was only a table between me and where he and the Hindu Indian woman sat. A number of people were nervous and felt uncomfortable at his appearance. It wasn’t long before a few got up from their tables and left. A man sitting directly in front of the homeless man held his head down, then looked over at me, got up and also left.
I started to feel embarrassed and wanted this homeless man to leave. I didn’t want there to be any association or connection between this man and me. Black men already carry a negative social stigma and racial bias by much of society. “The convenient narrative about homeless people is that they’re lazy, mentally ill or drug addicts. Or just looking for handouts. But that’s not true,” writes Otis R. Taylor, Jr. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 1, 2017). “I am not like this man,” I said to myself.
Then the Hindu Indian lady began to pack up her things to leave. I thought to myself again, this homeless man walked in and interrupted this woman’s space and work, and now she feels she has to leave too. She didn’t leave immediately, however. I saw her get in line to buy coffee or tea. Maybe she’s getting something to go? As the line got smaller she stood parallel to where the homeless man was sitting. She then looked over at him and asked him if he wanted anything to eat. My eyes widened out of curiosity. In a soft and nearly inaudible voice, he immediately said, “Yes.” She then asked him what he wanted to eat. The he got up from the table where he was sitting and walked over to the food display where sandwiches, pastries, beverages, and other goodies were kept. He pointed to a breakfast sandwich on the display. She then asked him what he wanted to drink and then he ordered several coffee beverages. He thanked the lady and went back to his table to wait on his order.
The Hindu Indian lady waited for his food and drinks. She never asked him any questions about his life or his name. All she saw was a man hungry who needed food to eat. She then brought his sandwich and drinks to his table, waved at him and said, Goodbye. He smiled back at her and waved as she left.
The young black man sat quietly at his table not speaking or bothering anyone ate his food alone. I looked at him in shame that I didn’t show the same kindness and compassion towards this homeless man like this Hindu Indian woman. All I wanted was for him get up and leave. He was embarrassing me I felt. I was too busy trying to be someone I wasn’t. I wanted people to see me, a black man, differently from “the other” black men they read or heard about. What people saw, I thought, were two black men sitting at opposite tables: one poor and homeless, and the other looked as if he could be poor and homeless. Looks can be deceiving. Who really knows who is poor or not these days? Who has the right to judge another? More importantly, why should I care what people think of me?
I thought I was better than this man. The truth is I was no better than this man. I was poor in so many other ways. The homeless man ate his food quietly without speaking our talking to anyone, looking around at people occasionally—completely ignoring my presence. When he had finished he cleared his table, got up, and left.
When he walked out of the coffee shop I felt such guilt, none like I had ever known, overwhelmed me. I realized that I had failed at being a witness and showing Christ’s love to this man. What if something happens to him and he never hears the message of salvation? I had an opportunity to help this brother, witness to him, and possibly lead him to Christ; but instead I allowed the opinions of others, contempt, vanity, selfishness, and pride keep me from sharing my table with him. Instead I ignored and dismiss this man as being less than me and unworthy to be in my company. There is no way that I can redeem myself and my heart hurts deeply inside.
More importantly, what if I died at that moment? What would the Lord say to me?
Why didn’t I act like this Hindu Indian woman? Aren’t Christians supposed to be better than other religions? Would it have hurt me to offer this man food to eat? This could be me. This was me. Isaiah 58:7 says, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” And, didn’t Jesus commanded us, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14).
“The next time . . .” Isn’t this what we often say when we miss an opportunity. All I could do was pray, and I did right there in the coffee shop:
Father, forgive me for my sin and selfish attitude and thoughts towards this homeless man. Forgive me for not representing you as a believer and as your servant. May this man find grace, mercy, love and provisions for his life. May the God of peace and justice open doors of opportunity for work, food, clothing, and shelter. Restore his mind and give him a new life and rest in Christ Jesus. Amen.
I may never see that homeless man again, but poverty and homelessness is all around us. Even in my own church we minister regularly to the poor and homeless. We have an actively powerful outreach team and ministry that go out into the community to feed and cloth the poor and marginalized. I will never forget this man. Every time I witness to poor and those in need I will see his face.
May God bless you as you minister and witness to “the least of these.”
3 responses to “Please Don’t Sit At My Table”
Very good story Pastor Steve. As you were describing the young appeared to be hungry and homeless, I just knew the next statement was going to be…you got up, introduced yourself and asked him if you could buy him something to eat. You lost the opportunity for a potential member and…that meeting could have been your message for Sunday. Every situation is a lesson. The Lord will always provide the scripture.
Thank you Connie. You’re absolutely right! Thanks for sharing. Love you, Sis!
Pastor Stephen King Memorial Tabernacle Church 514 – 58th Street Oakland, CA 94609 (510) 652-4915 Ofc (510) 652-9719 Pastor’s Line (510) 858-7205 FAX Website: http://www.mtchurch.org
“Encounters with God take place when we set out in a direction we hadn’t planned to take and are willing to give up where we intended to go.”
Well Pastor King, you just didn’t know. With the way of the world today and given the cruelty of people and the evil they may possess for a total stranger, sometimes it may be better to stay out of other folks’ situations and let them be. Who are we to judge you, the young man at the coffee shop or anyone else for that matter? You too are human. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Just awakens you to some new thoughts – a different perspective of yourself versus other Black men in the area, concern for how you think others perceive you in a particular situation, and most importantly how will your actions / thoughts be viewed by God. Some things to think about, but in no way did you do anything to harm the man. We never know what situation we may be in as a way for God to use us. Who knows, maybe you will see him again or another in that situation and react differently… or maybe not!