Great psychological thrillers, combined with innumerable episodes of crime drama, have given me a healthy appreciation of the dangers of picking up hitch-hikers.
In sum; Hitch-Hikers Bad. First nicey nicey & uber-friendly. Then, stabby stabby & a cold shallow grave. Generally and basically, it’s not the way I want to end my life. So, up to this point, absolutely and categorically no picking up strangers along country lanes.
But then there was this week. This bright autumn week turned out unexpectedly to be hitch-hiker week.
It all started in Sunday’s sermon. I had a week to prepare, to dig into the calling of the disciples, to Matthew’s unashamed challenge to my complacency… “Jesus said ‘Come, follow me’ and immediately they left their nets and followed him”. The message? When Jesus invites us to follow, our only sane response is to actually and immediately follow Him. To literally get off our bottoms and go where He goes, see what He sees, do what He does. To expend our energies, resources and gifting following the person and practices of Jesus Christ. To become, like Him, a ‘Your will be done’ kind of person.
I hear you, (you sound like my mother by-the-way). “But that doesn’t mean being foolish and putting your life in danger Christine”. Well now, your loving concern is comforting, but I’m not so sure that Jesus’ call was a call to safety.
The disciples followed Him into danger, prison, shipwreck, hunger, poverty and beheading. They followed Him into amphitheatres where they were torn apart by wild animals for the sport of the baying public. They followed Him into homelessness and injury and job-loss. They were only following their Jesus. Hounded by criticism, unjustly tried on trumped up charges, flogged, stabbed and crucified.
I reckon a choice to see the world through His eyes and respond, in-spite of my fear, might not be such a stretch of obedience. It is the pain and privilege of following.
Teaching Jesus’ call turned the dimmer switch way up to bright-white. I started to see need. On the afternoon school-run a boy stood by the side of the road, hitching. He looked half frozen by the bitter wind. He was shivering, and thanked me over and over for turning up the heating. He stared ahead, arms wrapped around himself, hands buried in his armpits, knees drawn up, shrunken. I imagine he was quite tall for his age, but the chill in his bones made him small and vulnerable. He was matter-of-fact. The bus-fare for the 8 miles home from school was too much. Four days a week he got a ride with a neighbour, but not on Tuesdays. He’d been trying to get a ride for 40 minutes he said. I asked if he’d forgotten his coat today. “I don’t have one” he said.
I had no words.
I could hear him, deliberately inhaling the warm air. Then slowly and quietly, as if the thought had crept out into the warmth, I heard him wish to himself… “I just want winter to be over”.
The longing was tangible. The lump in my throat was large. I drove him home, but the poverty lingered. Probably enough to see the next need.
A few days later, in the pelting downpour on a country lane I passed a man walking. He looked just shy of 60, but then, age is difficult to determine in this neck of the woods. Hardship often adds a decade, sometimes two. I slowed, rolled down the window and met Mark, who hitches the four miles to town once a week to get food. He used to get the bus, but 6 years ago when the fares went up he took to walking (or hitching on a good day). Summer is better, more traffic in the lanes. Winter, he says, isn’t much fun.
We talked first of places he had traveled, then people he’d met, and afterwards spent time discussing the food he’d tasted on his travels. After a while, he sighed and said “God, I’m so hungry, I know I started it but can we change the subject?”
Nature and seasons took conversational precedent until I dropped him where he wanted to be. Again, the poverty hung in the air long after he’d shut the car door.
I’ve a lot to learn. Much of it is about love. Seeing the need and thinking of others before myself, living out of a place that honours those in my community who are eeking out a life at the edges of polite society. The margins. Where Jesus lived.
I didn’t ask either of them if they had faith, didn’t preach a sermon, didn’t give a tract, didn’t switch on a worship CD as we traveled, didn’t say I was a Christian, didn’t preach Good News to the poor. But what I did do, was follow the person and teaching of Jesus through my fear into His goodness. Along the way, I made the journey a little easier for a fellow human being, and caught a glimpse of the real needs of my community and God’s heart for the people of His pasture.
And I didn’t get buried in a shallow grave. Which you have to admit, is awesome.