Merry Christmas, everybody!
Friday, as I was traipsing through the City finishing some last minute tasks, I met a homeless woman.
She was sitting on a crate outside a busy Chipotle on Broadway. With every passerby, she’d say “Merry Christmas, can you please help me with some spare change?” Most people ignored her. Including me.
I walked inside the Chipotle and ordered my usual. I paid for my food, put my wallet back into my book bag and walked toward the door.
“Give her the $10.” (Jesus just kinda talks to me like that.)
Without hesitation, I got my wallet out of my book bag, removed the $10, returned everything back to my bag, and was preparing to walk out the door.
“Giver her $20.”
“Really, my dude?” (I talk to Jesus like that.)
Now, I wasn’t sure if my annoyance was with having to get my wallet back out my bag or that God was asking me to something I really didn’t want to do. I imagine the people sitting in Chipotle were like, “Why won’t this woman go out the damn door??”
I take off my book bag, repeat the routine, take out a $20 bill and head outside.
“Merry Christmas,” I say as I drop the money in the wool hat she’s holding as an offering plate.
“Thank you so much! You have a Merry Christmas, okay?”
I stopped. This wasn’t going to be some kind of drive-by encounter.
“Thank you! What’s your name?”
“Mary,” she said.
“Mary? Like the mother of Jesus Mary?”
She laughed. “Yes. Like the mother of Jesus.”
She told me that five years ago, she left her home in Florida (and everything with it) and move to New York to care for her ailing mother. Her mother passed four years ago. She’s been homeless ever since.
“Will you pray for me?”
How she knew I was a praying woman, I don’t know. But, right outside that Chipotle on Broadway and 110th street, we prayed. Hand in hand.
Walking home, I was a crying mess. What were the chances that this woman’s name was Mary, a name associated with hope, obedience, willingness, and faith? How symbolic it was for her to share her story of hope, obedience, willingness, and faith towards her mother only to be left without a place to lay her head? Without proper shelter, food, clothing?
There’s much theological debate about Mary, the mother of Jesus: her age, her rights to say yes (or no) to divine impregnation, the transient nature of her life as a refugee, her status as a icon in the Christian faith as someone whose obedience produced the greatest gift to the world…
…And there’s something about Mary, the homeless woman on Broadway and 110th street: her decision to yes to leaving everything behind to care for her dying mother, the obedient act that has left her displaced and homeless, her status as an invisible person that is often seen as a nuisance, an eyesore.
What does is mean for us to encounter today’s Mary in the midst of our busyness? In the midst of our joy and celebration? How many times have we walked past a “Mary,” making her invisible, her voice unheard? Where is “Mary” in our communities? What will be our response when we encounter her?
These are questions I’ve wrestled with since I met her. These are questions to which I do not have answers.
I hope I get a chance to see her again.
Mary’s only Christmas wish, she told me, was to find an apartment. Can we pray for Mary to have her Christmas wish granted?
With much love and hope for the Marys of the world,
PS. Today’s the last day to enter to win a copy of Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower!