We’re called to be ready — even on the subway

by Jean Denton 

I wasn’t ready.  Jesus passed right in front of me, and I knew it. I knew it and I looked away. This was the moment for which the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent cautions us when it says: “Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

It happened recently when I was on a subway. I heard a voice chanting.

As it came closer, I could make out the words repeated rhythmically and with a decided speech impediment: “Please help me. Won’t someone help me in any way?. . . Please help me. Won’t someone help me in any way?”

The request came from the mouth of a black youth who slowly limped from one end of the subway car to the other, never pausing in his mantra. Without menace, he beseeched all 50 or so passengers for help. I silently wished he’d stop asking.

Among us was an older man in a clerical collar. But along with the rest of us, he stared at the floor. The car became quiet except for the youth’s repeated plea.

Finally, one rider look at him and began answering his request in what became a lilting call and response: “Please help me — God will — Won’t someone help me in any way? Please help me — God will.”

On the youth’s second pass through the car, the clergyman put a bill in his hand without looking up. The boy quieted and left the train at the next stop, quickly passing from sight in the crowd.

I am blessed to have studied the Scripture that asks when did we see Jesus hungry, a stranger or ill, and to understand we encounter him in the broken and least among us. So I recognized him.

But in my self-consciousness and fear, I retreated to what Paul described as “provision for the desires of the flesh” and failed to respond.

It was an unnerving recognition of my weakness and certainly a call to greater watchfulness.

So I’m thankful for the season of Advent and its call to strengthen our faith and resolve to be ready at every coming of Christ.

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