His name was Jason.
Every once in a while you meet someone who changes your life. Sometimes it is a relationship that only lasts a moment. Other times it can last years. But in either case, their impact on you is lasting.
I remember meeting him.
I offered to buy him lunch.
There was something pretty striking about him. Winsome. Engaging. Hard to ignore.
Maybe 19 or 20. But looked like he had lived longer. You know the look.
That first conversation was brief.
“Can I buy you lunch?”
“No man. No time.”
“Come on,” I said. “You’ve got to eat.”
“Yeah,” he laughed.
He let me buy him lunch. The whole thing took about 15 minutes. He ate quickly.
As we left the restaurant, he thanked me.
And then as he walked away, he turned around and said over his shoulder:
“What?” I replied.
“My name is Jason,” he said. “You never asked.”
Man… that cut me in the heart.
You see Jason was a beggar. Homeless. On a street corner in Boston.
When he asked me for money, I offered to take him to lunch. I had the time and it seemed like the right thing to do. If he had declined, I would have given him cash. I try to meet people’s needs when I can. I am pretty sure that is what Jesus tells us to do. I know the arguments against giving cash away. They may by alcohol or drugs with it, not food. That’s why I like to buy them meals. But if not, cash works. And I figure it is up to them what they do with it.
We talked maybe a total of 20-25 minutes, including lunch. And I never asked his name. I don’t think that is what Jesus would have done or asks us to do.
That brief encounter stays with me. It stays with me because it is a reminder that in trying to do the right thing, sometimes I can still miss the bigger picture. You see I was doing what was right by offering a homeless beggar a meal; but I never really allowed that beggar to be my neighbor. He was “other” and I was ok with him staying “other”. I never even asked his name, because “others” don’t have names.
That day I got it half right and all wrong.
There is a word for that. Pharisees. They got it half right and all wrong. And when we miss the relationships… that “them” and “they” and “other” have real names and real stories and real lives… we get it all wrong.
You see in life, we face love tests all the time. On this day, I failed mine. There have been others since. Many I have passed, some I haven’t. And the point is not to beat myself up over it — God’s grace is always bigger than my failures and His love always greater than my indifference.
But be sure of this… that day, I failed the test. Because love is not just about doing the right thing, it is about relationships… knowing… about real names and real people.
So that is why I remember to this day — years later — that his name is Jason.
And now I hope you will remember that too. And remember to ask for a name when you can — whether it is the kid bagging groceries for you at the store or making your $4 latte or standing on the corner begging for money. “They” have a name. So ask. Listen. Connect. It is what Jesus would do; it is what Jesus would have you do too, I think.
His name was Jason. I won’t forget that.