After I play my trumpet, Jack and I sit in the cool of the shade and listen to the cars hum overhead. I’ve never been great at shooting the breeze. The breeze always moves, and I always miss. So I end up answering Jack’s questions.
“What are you doing here?”
“Playing my trumpet, talking to you.”
“Not that. I mean, ‘Why are you here? What organization are you with? Salvation Army? The health department? What are you doing here?’”
“…I’m hanging out with you.”
“You’re not a pastor or nothing? You’re not with a church?”
“I go to church, but I’m just a dude.”
Jack’s puzzled. “And this ‘dude’ likes to drive around town and sit in the dirt with the homeless?”
I shrug. “You got a reason why I shouldn’t?”
During my morning reading, I come across the passage of Jesus healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda and I’m struck by the fact that the man had no idea who Jesus was. He didn’t come to Jesus, Jesus came to him.
I think that through over and over so much that I’m not sure if it’s me wanting to make something happen or God prompting me, but all I can picture doing today is getting a mini Gideon Bible into Jack’s hands and showing him these verses. So after dropping the kids off and running through my morning chores, I swing by the overpass and that’s exactly what I do.
Jack has moved his chair out into the sun by the chain link fence where nobody can sneak up on him and, if he dozes off, where he might be woken up by footsteps on the gravel and broken glass. All Jack’s stuff has moved with him. Bucket. Blanket. Bike. He’s flipped the wheels up to the sky and is working on the chain.
I squat in the sunshine and pull the mini Bible from my back pocket. “I was reading today and I kept thinking of you.” I briefly tell the story in my own words and Jack asks to read it. I find it in John 5 and hand it to him. “You mentioned the other day that you had hurt your back, and today I thought, ‘Why not pray?’”
Jack’s gray dusting-of-a-beard sags a bit on his cheeks. “If you want to…”
I realize this can’t be some long, drawn out prayer. If God’s going to answer, it’s got to be quick. I start first in my head. Jesus, it doesn’t sound like Jack has any hope. Doesn’t sound like he’s coming to You. But who cares? The Bethesda man didn’t come to You either. You came to him! So how ‘bout, “Jesus, I ask that You come to Jack, take the pain from his back, and heal him, make him whole. Amen.”
I don’t shut my eyes. Don’t touch him. None of that.
And Jack stays in his chair.
“Thanks for trying,” he says, “but that’s about what I expected. I did this to myself, working. Being stupid. Being proud. Lifting more than I should’ve and knowing it.” He tilts his head back to rest under his hat. “Not meaning to be disrespectful or discourage your beliefs any, but if there’s a God, He’s not paying any attention to me.”
I drive under the overpass and see that Jack is sleeping on a piece of cardboard. His bike, chair, and bucket are nowhere in sight.
I go to the store and buy Jack a bike lock. Then I head over and find him shuffling around, clinging to the rails of the cage under the bridge, totally unable to walk. All his stuff is gone. Somebody stole it Friday night. I help Jack sit down and then pull the bike lock out of my bag. “Sorry, I should have given that to you sooner.”
He laughs, “Now I just need to find a bike.”
“Oh yeah,” I say. “Just a minute.” I’ve parked across the street again, so I cross back over to my van and from the trunk unload the 15 speed green bike my friend Norm gave me months ago.
I wheel this bike back across the street and Jack’s weeping. “Thank you, man. Thank you.”
Inside my car, I also happen to have a pink blanket we set aside to donate but never got around to, and a folding bleacher-seat cushion I had gotten for free from an auto parts store a few weeks back.
“Are you kidding me?!” Jack can’t stop crying.
My whole head smiles as I say, “Jack, you can’t tell me God’s not watching out for you.”
Jack wipes his cheeks. “I take it back. I take it back.”