I met Jesus on Winnipeg’s Osborne bridge one day. Volunteering for a local bike advocacy group, I was shivering at my post that morning when I encountered the Lord in an unexpected guise.
During my annual two-hour volunteer shift counting cyclists, I bestowed a friendly but reserved smile and nod on the pedestrians who straggled past. Yet most walkers looked away from my silent greeting.
I felt nervous, however, when an someone’s appearance suggested a life on the street. “I wonder what it’s like to get mugged,” I thought.
The uncharitableness of this response unsettled me – all the more so, since the people I feared turned out to be the friendliest passersby of the morning.
Still fighting rising discomfort, I was the one who studiously avoided eye contact when a group of rough-looking men approached.
In turn, they smiled at me.
“What are you doing?” one asked me in friendly curiosity.
“Counting bicycles,” I replied.
“I wish I had a bicycle – then you could count me!” he said with a good-natured laugh.
And there he was: Jesus. An earthy character whose words struck me to the core. With a one-two punch, he spoke truth to my skewed perceptions.
I’ve always thought my choices earned me solidarity with people on the margins. Yet there are fellow Canadians for whom my intentionally simple lifestyle looks like luxury.
Not owning a car is a choice I’ve made, not one finances have made for me. It’s a decision to honour God’s creation: the environment, my body, and the people around me.
But as this prescient pedestrian showed me, I can fail to actually know the people I want to stand alongside. I can take a martyr complex about my perceived sacrifices, making it about me instead of God and his tremendous love for all he created.
“What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
I know better, yet as I watched people pass on that bridge, I allowed myself to think appearances can tell “good people” from “bad people.” But people are more complicated than our simple stereotypes. We all carry God’s image – and we all bear the imprint of sin.
This stranger on the bridge offered me shared humanity – which I’d been prepared to deny him. He showed me what being Christ’s representative in the world looks like.
The words “relationship,” “community” and “missional” roll off our tongues so easily; their practise is so much more nuanced and multifaceted. Simply to see another person is a discipline I am reminded to practise again and again.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35–36).
Rolling with the Spirit
As summer begins, Canadians hit the streets. We’re out riding our bicycles, mowing our lawns, walking our dogs or going for ice cream. We’re crossing paths with our neighbours. Are we ready to see them?
Are we willing to have a conversation with a stranger we’d prefer to avoid? Are we prepared to learn about ourselves from unexpected teachers?
“To love another person is to see the face of God,” Victor Hugo writes in Les Misérables, an epic story of reconciliation and restoration.
If we all took that perspective, I think we’d start seeing Jesus everywhere. I saw him on the Osborne Bridge.