In yesterday’s reflection I took note of five distressing news accounts of violence I came across in the New York Times. In that same copy, I was touched by another story that caught my attention.
City officials have long been attempting to clear the streets of Times Square of homeless persons. Apparently at present there is only one such person remaining, a man known simply as “Heavy.”
“Heavy is the last member of what (city social workers) called the Times Square Seven, the only homeless people remaining last summer out of the dozens they had been placing in housing for years. Of the seven, three men were regularly sleeping on the steps of churches. All of them had been homeless for a long time – on average, 17 years. One by one, the men were persuaded to accept housing. Except Heavy. ..
“He has lived on the streets for decades. Day after day, he has politely declined offers of housing, explaining he is a protector of the neighborhood and cannot possibly leave…
“According to neighbors and social workers, Heavy is a gentle presence, a quiet man who does not harass passers-by or panhandle aggressively. They say he may be mentally ill, as many of the chronically homeless are. An employee in a deli on Eighth Avenue said that he usually gave Heavy a few pieces of bread at lunchtime. Neighbors give him hot coffee, loose change, and warm clothing in winter.
“’He is a sweetheart,’ said an 82 year old woman who gave her name as Nanny and stopped to talk near her home on 48th Street, where she has lived for 44 years. ‘He sees me coming and says, “Hi, Mommy,” and I say, “Hi, honey.” And I give him his quarter, and I go on with my business.’”
Somehow the author of the article passed on the opportunity to cite the old song title and Boy’s Town reference, but I can’t. “He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.”
I was struck by Heavy’s insistence that he couldn’t possibly leave; he needed to stay around to protect the neighborhood. Maybe Heavy is right; maybe he’s there to keep people connected to Jesus.
According to Matthew, just two days before the Last Supper Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats, in which the sheep are told, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me,“ (25:35-36) and concludes with “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (25:40) Luke tells us that at about the same time Jesus marveled at a poor widow and the offering she made to the temple treasury of two small copper coins. (Luke 21:1-4) About to die, Jesus points us to the little ones in our midst as signs of grace.
Lord Jesus, you continue to come to us disguised in the least of our brothers and sisters. Slow us down to notice that which you notice, to be willing to both give and to receive, in this great tapestry of grace that is life. Amen.