And the blind man cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me receive my sight.”- Luke 18:38-41
Bruno doesn’t have any shoes. He walks barefoot in the streets. His heels are dry and cracked. Perhaps you are wondering why don’t we just buy him a pair of shoes. We have thought about this before, after all; why wouldn’t he want a pair of shoes? Well, he doesn’t. He had a pair of flip-flops and he gave them away to another homeless person. He is perfectly comfortable walking barefooted. He doesn’t like wearing shoes. Maybe it is because he never had shoes growing up.
Bruno was placed in an orphanage at a very young age. His mother could not afford to take care of him. However, Bruno had other siblings but he was the only one who went to the orphanage. He doesn’t recall much of his family. He knows that he has a younger sister whose name is barely remembers. He has mentioned once that he would like to meet her. She would be fourteen now. He has lost all contact with his family. He does not even have any idea where his mother lives. He thinks that she would not recognize him even if she passed him on the street. I told him that this would be impossible. A mother never forgets her son.
From Bruno’s point of view, he was rejected by his family. I am sure that it wasn’t an easy choice for his mother. Poverty and other circumstances drove her to place her son in an orphanage. The other children remained with her. No matter how much we try it is impossible to explain the rejection away. Perhaps Bruno’s way of accepting extreme poverty in his appearance is an attempt to convince himself and others that he does not need material things. He was taken away from his family because of money and if he could live without it, maybe he thinks that people would not reject him. Not matter what his real reasons are, he has learned to organize his world without any need for it. Perhaps if we forced him to wear a pair of shoes, it could just upset his personal world order. Bruno would rather give up our relationship with him than upset his “perfect world”.
Bruno wanted to introduce us to a woman whom he met recently. He only had good things to say about her. When we met her, we could see why. She was a kind and generous person. They had crossed paths when he was begging outside a restaurant where she had lunch. She gave him a generous gift. It was a large offering which left Bruno amazed. She saw something in him and wanted to take the extra step to help him. She offered to put him up in a hostel where he could get cleaned and groomed. She was going to help him get his documents sorted out. As she is an owner of a successful circus, she wanted Bruno to work there. She told us that she grew up in a circus and it was very much like an open family. She was sure that Bruno would adapt well there. The problem is that Bruno was not part of this conversation. He just smiled and nodded agreeably to whatever she said. He made a comment that he never imagined living or working in a circus before. Before anyone could saying anything, she was already making all the necessary phone calls. At no point, Bruno disagreed with her but he did not agree to anything as well. The lady was kind and generous but she did not know Bruno. She assumed what she knew what Bruno needed. This is a dangerous assumption.
I don’t need to be a prophet to foretell the future in this case. This woman was going to disappointed that Bruno completely disregarded all her efforts to help him. She might come to think negatively of him. She might even say that he is an ungrateful young man and perhaps lazy. None of this would be true of Bruno but one would need to know him to understand why he refuses any help. The problem is not with Bruno or the woman. It is the way we approach people. We have a tendency to assume that we know what the neighbor needs. Jesus never did this unless He had a personal insight into the person’s life. Just because Bruno begs for his food does not mean that he is going to jump at every opportunity of a job. We must not assume that the homeless are sitting around waiting for one of us to give them an opportunity. The truth us that they have learned to survive in their situation. Bruno was organized his life to survive in this world. He believes it to be secure and stable and he is not going to give this up just because we offer a nice job and promise of a good life. These promises do not mean anything to him. He would prefer to hold on to reality that he is familiar with than give up everything for a possibility with no guarantees. If someone came to us right now where we are in life and made us an offer of a better life and we have to give up everything we have known to be our security in order to attain it, would we do it ?
Perhaps, some would say that if we were in Bruno’s shoes, we would take the opportunity. This is the problem. It is impossible for anyone to walk in Bruno’s shoes. They only fit him. His pains and joys, which have helped him formulate his worldview according to his personality and temperament, belong to him alone. He is an individual being and we are individual beings. Even if I spend a year living in the streets as a homeless person, I will never be able to think and act like Bruno. The best that I could do is to think like Stephen pretending to be homeless. When I assume what is good for someone like Bruno, I imagine myself to be Bruno and then think of things that I would want. Again, it is what Stephen wants and not what Bruno believes to be important. It is impossible for me to know what Bruno needs and wants to make his world better. Only he alone can tell these things. When Jesus, in the quoted text above, saw a blind man crying out for mercy. Jesus did not assume anything. He did not assume that he wanted to see. He respected the man and asked him what he wanted.
Asking someone what they want or need is an important question that opens the door into the life of the person whom we want to help. We judge the needs of the people by appearances. This is not an edifying approach because it simplifies everything. People are more complex than their basic needs. Bruno has been judged unfairly by his appearance his whole life. If we want to build a lasting relationship with anyone whom we are called to serve, then we have to follow the example of Jesus. We have to allow the people to share their needs with us. It may not be what we think of as priority but we must be careful that in our attempt to help someone that we do not dehumanize them further. Every human being has developed their own system of survival and we need to respect it. It is something that they have constructed based on their personal experiences. Jesus did not impose His godly ways on people. He gave them the freedom to allow Him into their lives as they were comfortable and ready. He never asked the old woman whose ailment he healed to become his disciple. He just healed her and let her carry on with her life. I am sure that she was transformed by the incident but she needed time to reorganize her world to truly understand what Jesus had done.
We spoke to Bruno a few days later. He said that he stopped going to the place where he met this lady. He said that he was afraid that she would force him to do something that he wasn’t ready to do yet. He did not want her to think that he was lazy or did want any help. He was just not ready to give up everything that he has known as his security and freedom to live in a circus. We encouraged him to be honest with the woman. I said that the most responsible thing to do was to go back and explain to her that the timing was not right for him to leave everything behind but he really appreciated her help. He seemed to like this idea. To my surprise, he immediately stood up and decided to go back to the place where he met her and be honest with her. It had been bothering him for some time. I said a little prayer and hoped that she would understand his position.