Rick stumbled in through the front door of my workplace with nothing more than a black back-pack dangling off his shoulder. My co-workers and I glanced up and noticed his dirty clothes, unshaven face, and detected the faint smell of cigarettes and sweat. Immediately, several of them got up from their desks, not to help, but to busy themselves with something in the backroom, so they wouldn’t have to look him in the eyes. Others just pretended not to notice and typed feverishly on their computers.
I felt a tug in my heart and remembered the verse in Matthew 25:40, where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.” I got up from my desk and came out to the counter to greet Rick.
“Can I help you sir?” I asked. He seemed to be in his early 20’s, maybe a little too young to be called sir, but I thought this was the most polite way to address a stranger.
“Ah, yes, sorry to bother you,” he stammered. “May I speak with you for a moment?”
At first I was puzzled. We are speaking, I thought. But instead, I replied, “Sure, what is your name?”
“Hi, Rick. Sure c’mon into my office and we’ll talk.” I guided him around the long counter and into my office.
Before I could even reach my comfortable office chair, he sat down and immediately began to cry.
“I’m sorry, I don’t usually do this,” he croaked with a weak voice, “but I am just so desperate right now and you looked like a nice person – like someone who could help.” He held his head in his hands to hide his tears.
“What’s going on?” I asked with a kind voice. I was concerned, but cautious.
“I have nowhere to live.” He said and began to sob. He wiped his tears on the worn sleeve of his gray flannel. With bright red eyes he looked up at me and pleaded, “Do you know anywhere I could go?”
I told him the homeless shelter in town had just opened. He seemed relieved to know that he would not spend another night sleeping on the sidewalk or in a park.
I asked Rick questions about his life and learned that he had lived in a foster home, but was released a year ago, when he turned 18. He rented a room for a while, but eventually he lost his job and was unable to pay rent.
I called a friend of mine and asked her to help me take Rick to the homeless shelter. First, we drove Rick to the supermarket to get some non-perishable food and then on to the shelter across town. As we said goodbye, he took my hand and said, “I thank God for you.”
As we slowly drove away from the shelter, I thought, “Wow, I really helped this guy! I wonder what my co-workers and boss will say? Maybe I will get an award at a meeting or a special plaque for my office or something!”
I could see the plaque in my mind – “Thank you for going the extra mile to help the needy in the community.” I could already see the shine coming off the gold engraved plate and the gleam of the polished wood!
But my achievement celebration was suddenly interrupted by the Holy Spirit. I was amazed that such a soft voice could be heard over the ruckus of my own private recognition ceremony.
“Be careful! When you do good deeds, don’t do them in front of others to be seen by them. If you do that, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven … So when you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know what you are doing. Your giving should be done in secret. Your father can see what is done in secret and He will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4.
The Spirit gently guided my focus back to where it belonged – on the kingdom of God and heavenly rewards. And just as suddenly as Rick had walked into my life, the glimmer and allure of any fleeting earthly reward turned dull and undesirable.