A man dressed in a tattered green jacket and filthy tan pants, with a scraggly beard, uncombed hair and few teeth walks up and down Fifth Avenue near Bryant Park in Manhattan. I see him every day on my walk to work. It’s hard to miss him as he walks in the middle of the sidewalk dragging a two-wheeled shopping cart filled with what are most likely all his earthly possessions. He looks straight ahead, holding an open Bible while shouting King James Bible verses without looking down.
The first time I saw him I kept my distance thinking, another troubled homeless man. I continued to pass him day after day, week after week, month after month, in rain, in cold, in sweltering heat -- he was always there, always reciting scripture, never asking for a dime (but always courteous if given one). Over time I grew accustomed to his biblical ranting and the sound of his voice became just another part of my daily routine.
Then one day as I neared his corner, I heard him shout, “REPENT” and saw my fellow commuters shaking their heads and sidestepping him, just as I had done. It was in that moment I thought of John the Baptist, another “crazy” man who “prepared the way” of the Lord. It dawned on me that I probably would have sidestepped the greatest prophet of all had I come upon him back in the first century A.D.!
So that day, I listened. I stepped closer to the “itinerant preacher” and heard the words, “Repent, repent says the Lord for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” I realized that this disheveled man, who is loved by God no more or no less than I am, is a spirited presence on that corner and a steadfast vocalizer of the Word.
In this Lenten season we are invited to repent and to turn away from what keeps us from God. This is so we will grow in faith and faithfulness letting the Spirit work within us.
As we head towards Easter and the empty tomb of Jesus, we should be mindful not to sidestep, but to do our best to draw closer to God. Because as you “Draw near to God, He will draw near to you!” To do this we may fast, serve others, read scripture, study the Bible and pray. So pray for your family, our church, our new Interim minister, our community, refugees, our country, our world, and strangers on the street.
Most Christians will observe Lent quietly and introspectively, but perhaps a more powerful approach would be to walk up and down East Ridgewood Ave holding a Bible shouting, “REPENT!”
Joan Davies for the Transition Team