By Jim Wehner
He didn’t approach the table because he knew me. We were just the closest table. He tried to ask a question, but he was impossible to understand with only a couple of teeth and his tongue heavy from drink.
I recognized him from the neighborhood, not by name, but by appearance. He was small, maybe 5’5” with a slight build, wearing worn baggy jeans with old sneakers and a T-shirt with a faded logo on the front. His black, puffy jacket was way too warm for the current temperature outside, but it would become more important later when the temperature dropped close to freezing.
I responded immediately with, “I do not have any cash to give to you.” He became agitated and shook his head. He spoke again, but I still couldn’t understand him. Oh to be filled with the compassion of Jesus at times like these. But I find my cynical heart is slow to mercy and quick to judgement.
Jesus words to the disciples rang in my ears, “the world will recognize you by your love for one another.” How could I show love in this circumstance?
When we started Community Grounds Cafe, our neighborhood coffee shop, we hoped to create a bright, wholesome space where neighborhood residents cross paths. It has since become a positive asset in the community. Business people make deals, high school students use the wifi to complete homework, friends connect, school board representatives meet with parents and concerned citizens. A customer can get a $1.00 morning jolt, or a $4.00 cappuccino, whatever meets the need and soothes the taste buds. It is a healthy mix of community.
Still, I wasn’t sure how to engage with this man. I was also aware there were now about ten people watching this interaction.
He again asked his indistinguishable question. But this time, he motioned to the grocery store (connected to the coffee shop where I was sitting) and then to his mouth.
“You want some food?” I asked. He nodded emphatically. “Do you have some way to pay for the food?” He shook his head and looked at the ground. He was exposed. He also knew others were watching.
We walked into the store, and I asked him what he wanted. He selected a block of medium sharp cheddar cheese. I ask the obvious question. “Out of everything in the store, you want a block of cheese?”
He nodded, but began looking around, understanding this choice probably wasn’t the best. I grabbed a loaf of bread, some lunch meat, and sliced cheese. “How about this?” I asked, holding it out to him. He took it, and we walked over to the register and I paid for his food. I embarrassed to say that I noticed when He left without a “thank you."
I turned back towards my friend I’d left in the coffee shop. I felt good about myself.
Then, I heard the young woman who works in our grocery store say, “Thanks, Jim.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For helping him out.”
“Do you know him?”
“He comes in once or twice a week,” she told me.
"Does he always need someone to buy his food?”
She nodded her head, and I continued. “What do we usually do?” I asked, thinking she has probably had experience asking him to leave and to not harass our customers.
Instead, she simply said, “I usually buy him something.”
I was blown away. One of our young employees, who we are excited to support and provide with a job, had shown me with her life what it means to be generous. She had shared over and over again with this man who enters a grocery store with no way to pay.
What an example of love! Our culture is always tries to define love, but Jesus has already shown us what it means to love sacrificially and without expectation of repayment.
I have witnessed this holy love in action in our store, and I am blessed by our employees who love all of our customers well. It inspires me to keep walking with Jesus, to continue to love in big and small ways that call back to his unconditional love for all of us.