The other morning I was in the large coastal city of La Ceiba running some errands when I stopped by my favorite breakfast spot – an old wooden cart parked alongside the curb in one of the city’s busy downtown streets. Taxis, buses, cars, bicylists, pedestrians and emaciated street dogs passed by as a few women prepared baleadas (think Mexican tacos) over several gas-powered burners, flipping tortillas on the skillet with their bare hands and calling out orders as people stoond in line to buy the Honduran delicacy. The cart itself doesn’t look like it would be sanitary enough to eat out of, and much less when you consider the pollution, exhaust, and raw city life on all sides.
But nonetheless, that little cart is one of our favorite places to eat.
That morning as I sat on one of about a half dozen plastic chairs lining the sidewalk, eating my breakfast in a small basket in my lap alongside a couple businessmen, an elderly woman, and a young mother, I became surprisingly disgusted with my surroundings. This is not hard to do in La Ceiba, as trash lines the streets, most buildings have chipped paint, people and animals urinate on the sidewalks, and everything tends to have a grimy feel. My eyes followed a rather beautiful yet unfortunate street dog with a broken front leg, hobbling along looking for food until a man aggressively shooed him and he darted off. I cringed as he ran. Then my eyes found a homeless man rummaging through a trash can less than two yards from me. My mind filled with thoughts like I would really rather not be eating breakfast in this environment. Thank you, God, for giving us a home in the countryside, for sparing us from living in the midst of all this mess of pain and sin.
And then my eyes landed upon another homeless man an arm’s reach away, this one with a knotted rope in his hands, talking nonsense and swinging the rope up against the back of someone’s truck, a sort of soft whipping motion. A thoroughly unpleasant man from all points of view, and I considered leaving with my breakfast to find somewhere else to sit and eat, away from him and his whipping rope. I studied him with my eyes as I hesitated to leave (knowing that any other sidewalk or park bench nearby would have the same unfortunate surroundings), and suddenly a thought intruded on me: I myself am that man. We are all that man in God’s sight in our filthiness, our nonsense, our unpleasant nature.
I don’t know how to take the thought much further than that, but we are all, in fact, that man. That dirty, crazy, his-presence-ruins-my-breakfast man. In God’s sight that is each one of us, each one of us falling short of His glory no matter how intelligent, accomplished or polished we are. If I think I am better than that man because I graduated from college and don’t pee in the street and know that whipping a rope against a car is not socially acceptable, I’m more lost than he is. God sees us much more clearly than we see ourselves: that man and I are on the same level, both desperately in need of God’s grace, my sin no better or worse than his. God chose to send His son to die for us – for that man and you and me – not because we deserve it but because He is merciful. And let us not be fooled into believing otherwise.