[The following is from a series first posted during Lent in 2015.]
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Veronica steps through the crowd to wipe the face of Jesus
|Homeless Jesus sculpture (Photo by Mark Rumsey)|
He Died Not Too Far From Here
By Charles Kinnaird
It was my first time to volunteer at the soup kitchen. A lady named Veronica handed me an apron and told me I could work with Fred. “He can show you ‘round this place,” she said.
Fred was an older man, tall and lean with closely cropped hair that was mostly gray. He said he was retired now, but before that he did “just about everything.”
“I come down here every Saturday morning and I help ‘em set things up,” Fred told me as he handed me a wash rag to wipe down the tables. “You know, most folks will wipe down the tables after everybody gets done eatin’, but I like to wipe ‘em down before they get here, too. That way they know we’re thinkin’ about ‘em. They know they’re comin’ to a place prepared just for them.”
“How long have you been doing this?” I asked.
“It’s been a few years now. Been more than a minute, I’ll say that. And I’ll tell you why I do this, though I don’t know how you might take it.” Fred paused and took a deep breath, “You see, I heard all my life about how Jesus died for my sins. Then I come to find out he died not too far from here – and I’ve got Veronica to thank for tellin’ me that.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just looked at Fred in anticipation of what he might say next. He looked at me with a side glance and wry smile, then he tilted his head back and laughed.
He then continued, “I can tell you don’t know what in the world this old man’s talkin’ about, but I’ll tell you what happened. Now you don’t know Veronica, but Veronica loves to cook – that’s what she does. She cooks up yonder at the school house for the kids then she comes over here on Saturday and cooks for these folks that are down and out right now.
“Well, this one Saturday morning she come up here and found this man lyin’ on the sidewalk up against the wall. She told me she didn’t know if he was asleep or dead, but she called out to him. He stirred just a little bit so she got down closer. That man was all dirty and had scratches and scabs all over his face. She didn’t know if he had fallen or if somebody beat up on him, but he was so weak and tired. She ran inside and got the preacher, ‘We got to help this man,’ she said. She grabbed a towel and a wash cloth out of the charity closet, got a bowl of water and went out there to see if she could wash off his face.
“And this is the way she told it to me – she said when she knelt down to wash that man’s face, somethin’ told her this might’ve been somebody important. Now I won’t lie to you,” Fred continued, “I’d have probably said he was just some bum who’d been drinkin’ and bein’ no count all his life, but Veronica said somethin’ told her different.
“Well, Veronica and the preacher brought this man inside so they could get him somethin’ to eat and drink, but when they helped him on in, that’s when she knew he was too sick for them to do much for him. And that’s when they called 911.
“When the ambulance came, they got this man loaded up and Veronica told the preacher she had to go with him to the hospital. She told the ambulance drivers she was gonna ride up there in the ambulance, and she just hopped on in. Veronica says she still don’t know why she done it, but it was like somethin’ told her to go on with them to the hospital. And she stayed up there ‘til the doctors came around and saw the man. She told ‘em she didn’t know who he was, but she just found him out on the sidewalk by the soup kitchen. Then they told her that they were gonna get him into a room, so she came on back. She called the preacher to come pick her up so she could get on with her cookin’.
“Well, that was the first time she seen this man. The next day was Sunday and she decided she would go back up to the hospital to see how he was. She got up there and saw he was still real sick, but he just barely opened his eyes and saw her. Then he just barely smiled, and he just barely opened his mouth and spoke to her just one time. He said, ‘I remember you – you’re just like an angel to me, and I don’t know why. I feel like I’m just one of the least of these and you don’t even know me, but you come to help me out.’
“Now that’s when Veronica said it happened. She said it was when he said ‘I’m the least of these,’ it just hit her like a lightnin’ bolt. This is how she told it to me, she said, ‘I felt this electricity just come though me and it was like Jesus was sayin’ you done it do me – and all I could do was cry.’ She said she had to leave out from there because she wasn’t doing nothn’ but cryin’ and shakin’.
“So that was the second time she seen him,” Fred said, “and it turned out there would not be no third time. When she went up to the hospital the next day after work, they told her he had passed – there wasn’t really anything they could do, you know. Well Veronica – she was still kinda tearful then, but she said she was somehow feelin’ stronger inside. It was after all that happened that she came and told me the whole story, what I told to you just now, and this is how she started it off:
Next time you hear somebody say Jesus died for your sins, you tell ‘em, No, he died not too far from here. And not only that, you tell ‘em he’s dyin’ somewhere every day, and if you look around you might see where he’s dyin’. And if you see he’s dyin’, feed him if you can, give him some medicine if you can, but if you can’t do nothin’ but wipe his face, then you just wipe his face, because Jesus is dyin’ somewhere, and he’s dyin’ not too far from here.