That Moment When Jesus Becomes More Important Than Jesus

It was 2013 when I first visited the unforgettable city of Athens. Everyone wanted us to do the tourist thing and go see the acropolis, but unless pulled by force, I’m unlikely to visit such popular sites. I wanted to see the real Athens and so decided to travel through its undesirable neighbourhoods. I always knew I was far away from tourism when I entered a restaurant where nobody spoke English.

I don’t know why it is, but when I go to another country, I like to visit certain places of that country, town or city no tourist has any reason to visit. It’s the only way to really be the guest of a country and get to know its people good and bad.

One day I’m on my balcony in the suburbs of Athens when I meet a new friend. He wants to take me in his car out to see a certain type of monastery on the arid outskirts of Athens. He was a really lovely person proud of his Greek Orthodox heritage and Church. I’m always up for that type of random adventure so I agreed to go.

We hop in his car and it reminded me of my childhood in the 1990s because that was the era it was manufactured. The windscreen was extremely dusted over with sand and no air conditioning. There was so dirt on the outside of the car that I was sure this was the only thing holding it all together. If someone washed it, maybe it would fall apart? I recall winding down the window to get some air, and forgot that the air in Greece is also hot so that was a waste of time. Although it was still morning, by the time we arrived it was midday and the sun was cooking.

My stomach wasn’t so good. This happens me a lot when I visit Holy places or go somewhere special, the devil likes to punish me with a bad bowel. Anyway, this man was so excited to show me this monastery and to have us pray there that I couldn’t help but share in such happiness. His joyous demeanor was infectious to say the least and it made me forget about my painful gut for a while.

We arrived at this dusty looking monastery that seemed like a Castle from Star Wars. Just before the big arched gate there sat a Gypsy woman with two children. She reminded me of the women I grew up with, hard as nails and able to ask for bread while hiding the loaf behind their backs. She asked for money and I gave her some.

My Greek Orthodox friend didn’t quite scold me for it, but he scoffed at them and said to me, “Don’t give them anything, they’re professional beggars and Gypsies known for this type of thing.” This happened another time in Medjurgorje when one of the visionaries cousins said the same to me passing a one legged beggar who was a professional. They’re all part of gangs that sit at gates and rotate their shifts in duping pilgrims out of money apparently to prey upon their good nature.

I always give to the beggars if I can whether they be professional or not. What does it matter? Give it to them anyway, it’s an act of love and charity that pleases the Lord. When we focus too much on why they’re there, or what they intend on doing with the money we lose sight of the act of love. What happened the poor man is that the monastery, candles, meeting with the nuns and praying before Jesus was more important to him than Jesus Himself.

There was Jesus (Gypsy woman and children) at the gate but he was more interested in the Jesus behind the gate in the monastery, the Jesus he thought he knew. Look at those gypsy eyes full of history and mischief but let that not be the focus. Let the focus be Christ. St.Benedict teaches us that when we open the door to someone at the monastery we open that door to Christ whether they be good or bad doesn’t matter.

If one man asks you for your tunic give him your cloak as well no questions asked. There you go, take it. Sometimes when you give with no hope of return and with no discrimination for con artist or genuine beggar, you give a greater gift. We have to be very careful that we do not become like the Rich man and Lazarus who sat at the gate. The Rich man did not see Christ in Lazarus, in fact he didn’t even see Lazarus.

There are times when we walk into the temple of God and fail to see the temple of the Lord in the beggar who sits at its door. St.Paul tells us our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. If we cannot worship God in the temple of our fellow brother outside the walls, then of what worth is our worship of the Lord inside the temple itself where the presence of the Lord resides eternally? And even though she was not officially a beggar in the material sense, she is in the spiritual sense. Every person is a beggar for Love whether they know it or not so give it to them.

Our brothers heart is a tabernacle, and inside it resides the Holy of Holies, but in our ignorance we fail to look beyond our human wisdom to see that God must be worshipped there also. Of what use is our lengthy prayers if virtue and discernment is not active and present in us? It’s of no use at all. It’s not those who say ‘Lord Lord’ who get into heaven but those who do His Will, right?

Dear readers, do not allow your concept of Jesus to become more important than Jesus. Do not allow the Devil to seduce you into thinking that Jesus is only to be found in the delight of Christian imagery and culture. Roll up your sleeves and get to work practicing the virtues. Give to the beggar, the thief and those who society deems as undesirable. Don’t ask questions, don’t wonder what he’s going to spend it on. Give it to him and no matter who he is, he will have received your greater gift of love.

Who knows? Maybe the dishonest beggar may walk away feeling your love, and eventually his conscience may accuse him and he will begin to feel he is in the wrong. A conversion may take place because you took action. Regardless of the outcome of the dishonest beggar, God is glorified at your act of love. He who makes the sun shine on the good and the bad alike will be overjoyed that you shone your love on the good and bad like too. And your act of charity will not be forgotten by Jesus who alone knows the secret intentions of all men’s hearts.

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