It didn’t seem too long ago when life was bleak for me. It started when I finally resisted years of verbal intimidation by my father. The threats that assaulted my emotional well being were no longer sending me cowering to my bedroom in fear. The night I stood up to him both physically and emotionally, he left me a hundred bucks on the kitchen counter, and banished me to the streets of New York City. He called me the next morning before I was to depart and seemed more worried about what I would tell close relatives about why I was asked to leave by him.
I was too much in a state of fear to be concerned what my father wanted as I struggled to find places to wash my hair, keep my clothes clean, and retain my sanity as I sought out job interviews during the morning and afternoon hours. If I wasn’t in my 20s, people would have referred to me as the bag man, much like I had thought of old ladies and men who pushed old shopping carts around with their life’s belongings.
Raised in a middle class, strict and religious home, there was little room to make mistakes or have an open mind to society’s woes. The people who I’ve been conditioned to think were a burden on society was now me. It’s odd how life can teach you a humiliating and humbling lesson. I certainly received my ample dose during my period of desolation.
On those homeless, winter nights it was me and a green garbage bag of possessions, my most sacred ones being a notebook and pen. It gave me an opportunity to seek salvation in my own mind – a chance to truly discover my character and who I would be in my maturing years.
What happened was extraordinary – I learned the gift of compassion. There were many faces on those train rides at night – each with a unique story, many like me grasping for any sign of hope. The period of humiliation was my anti-biotic to having such a concrete view of society’s downtrodden.
Today, I wonder how far we’ve come in utilizing our gift of compassion.
I do see it along my life journey in such places as the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. The good people there work tirelessly to not only help people with shelter but with food and clothes. Since our economic depression, the hardships placed upon groups such as these have been overwhelming.
I do realize there are many people who walk among us filled with a tremendous amount of dedication to help the oppressed and needy such as the Sure House Mission group based in south New Jersey. They carry food and clothes to the homeless in Philadelphia. There are countless giving groups doing this in some way each night. They are inspirational to me.
I also wonder what would Jesus say to me, a man from the 21st century, at a modern day Sermon on the Mount? What would Jesus say about the fears, worries and embellishments that I have in my own life? What would Jesus think about the mega churches of our country? What would Jesus say about the business of religion? Our desires to have the fastest car, biggest house, smartest smart phone, speediest GPS, most expensive shoes, and on and on I could go.
Pope John Paul I spoke honestly during his short tenure about the riches of the living arrangements of a man who is supposed to represent Jesus, the Son of God who rode in a donkey while the Pontiffs are paraded around like noble Kings. Pope John Paul I questioned why men of Christ were surrounded by gold plated toilets and riches while others in the world were dying of hunger.
What would Jesus think about the priceless art work hanging on the walls of the Vatican? Would He demand it to be sold to help feed the hungry and poor at a modern day Sermon on the Mount?
If we truly believe in Jesus’ words, truly, there should be no hesitation in reaching down and lifting our fellow men and women and children to their feet.
Perhaps it is time we Christians do a lot more than repeat memorized Biblical verses and actually act and help our neighbors who are in distress. Maybe the leaders of the big, beautiful churches around this country will actually live like Jesus and be a wonderful example to Christians.
I’m not ashamed to admit I’m an idealistic man, a dreamer. Let’s be honest, this was Jesus’ dream. It should be every Christian’s dream, too.
Michael John Sullivan is an author living in New York. He recently had his second novel, Everybody’s Daughter, published by Fiction Studio Books. He can be reached at michaeljohnsullivan.com.