I missed my chance to be the change I want to see this week. Change, however, is more than chance.
This week saw the death of Winnie Mandela, and the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There was no shortage of commemoration or memorialization. But, what happened to me on Sunday, shifted my consciousness and course for the rest of the week, and caused me to contemplate the golden opportunity in this Golden Anniversary.
I stood at the check-out line on Sunday, yes Easter, or as I prefer to call it: Resurrection Sunday. While shopping, I noted how far we’ve come since I was a child when Easter was a holy day and the stores were closed, gas stations shuttered, and the roads were clear. Though Sabbath keepers who celebrated the day before, or perhaps attended a sunrise service that morning, we learned to dress appropriately and conduct ourselves with requisite respect for a day recognized as the day Christ rose from the grave.
In was in that Spirit that I noticed the woman behind me in line. She was petite, a senior, and white. Her faded print dress once was rich with hues in blues, greens and purples. Her crocheted turquoise shrug and matching fingerless gloves, let me know she had been somewhere special.
“Did you have a good day today?” I asked her, smiling. “Yes, I went to church this morning. I’m an usher, and usually have to wear black, but today we could wear anything we wanted.”
She was alert and friendly. On her game. I could see why she is an usher. Fun to talk to. Her keys were on a tattered “US Army” lanyard around her wrist. My eyes flitted over the items she placed on the conveyor belt—a stalk of broccoli, a couple of lemons and tomatoes, the package of chocolate meal replacement drinks and a Red Bull.
“That’s my one sin,” she said, pointing to the energy drink.
“Wooo, don’t hurt yourself,” I said jokingly. She laughed with me, and it was time for us to move on. Just then, she put her hand on my shoulder and told the cashier, “My granddaughter here is going to pay for mine.”
My eyes must have glazed over. Did this woman in Huntsville, Alabama just call me her granddaughter? Funny. Wow, I thought. I laughed and walked away.
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Missed Opportunities and Shirked Responsibilities
The Spirit pricked my conscience ever so slightly. But, I sadly confess, I was too shocked, too preoccupied, too selfish, and too disconnected to pay for her. It certainly wasn’t too much for me. I just wasn’t plugged in, and my natural inclination was to keep walking. Oh, but while He prodded gently there, in grace, He came back to arrest my sensibilities, full force.
While I didn’t care that she was little, old, or white, and I didn’t care about the $20 it would have cost me, the fact that I did not recognize the opportunity to extend a little grace, was a substantial mistake. It was not willful, but inadvertent. And, that is what haunts.
In an extensive discourse about the end times Jesus tried to explain to His disciples, the signs of the end, in Matthew 24. He discussed the preparation needed to make it through this life to the end (Matthew 25), in which the “wise virgins” prepared by having enough oil to last the night—the oil being interpreted to mean the Holy Spirit to guide us through to the end. Then, in His parable of the talents, Jesus taught His people to work until He return, using whatever means and ability they had. He ended by painting a word picture of the judgment, in which He decides who comes with Him, and who suffers destruction that will last forever.
To the right, He motioned for His blessed people. “Come with me, because when I was hungry, and poor and was in prison, you fed me, clothed me, and visited Me.
“Oh?” the blessed must smile in surprise, “we didn’t know that was You, Jesus! That’s just what we do!”
“Because you did that to the least of these, you did it to Me. Enter!”
Their pattern had been ingrained; it was the substance of their characters, and by then, an unnatural tendency in a world so selfishly inclined. (See Matthew 25:34-40 instead of my personal paraphrase.)
But, it is with the same sense of surprise that the wicked, the ones bound for destruction, wonder, “Where were You, Jesus? Certainly, our oversight was inadvertent.”
“I was right there, the person you didn’t help, didn’t feed, didn’t love on, didn’t visit, didn’t care for, the one you cursed, and disrespected. You didn’t help them; thus, you didn’t help Me” (See Matthew 25:41-46).
Like a scene straight out of “Maury” or “Jerry Springer”—or a “Housewives” or any Tyler Perry film—they get hot, curse, and fight. Church wigs and pocket squares flying, the fire of everlasting destruction licks at their heels.
As the angels usher them through the door on the left, they scream, “Wait! We never even saw You!”
Reflexive and Automatic
We draw closer to that day. We have the witness of God’s Word to remind us, and the prophetic voices behind us. In the King celebration we celebrated the life of one whose aims and energies advocated for the basic personhood of everyone. We also learned the results of an autopsy that confirmed that police resorted to shooting another unarmed man, in the back. A few days later, in a different city, another shooting resulted in the death of a mentally ill black man who wielded a plumbing fixture.
This pattern, while not readily acknowledged as such, certainly is reflexive and automatic. How much of our lifestyle and collective practice comport to our reflexive and automatic, selfish inclinations? I think we can find the answers as we examine everything from immigration, taxation, militarization and nationalism, to mass incarceration, and church participation.
We may revisit Memphis and that fateful day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a bullet for the oppressed and disrespected, but this Golden Anniversary must not overshadow the golden opportunity to change.