I stepped onto the U1 train for the first time in 2020 to head to school this morning. Amazingly, it was quite empty, so I took the first open seat to my right. As soon as I sat down, I noticed the strong odor coming from the man across from me. As I looked his way, I saw that he had a huge wine bottle hidden in his jacket from which he took a swig every once in a while. My initial thought was to move. But, my mind immediately went to the lyrics of a song that have been on my mind lately: “Break my heart for what breaks yours.” I stayed put.
Our eyes met, and he looked down at the bag that contained my lunch and a new pair of boots. I looked away and positioned myself so that I could see out the window. The beautiful pink and purple sky came into view. Then we crossed over the Danube. I looked at the birds and the ice. My thoughts were interrupted when his reflection came into focus in the window. He sat quietly and still, only moving when he wanted another long gulp of liquor. I blew my nose with a tissue I had in my pocket. He looked my way.
I wondered if he knew how badly he smelled. I wondered if he were hungry. Did he have a place to live? Had he spent the night riding the train? Was there something that I needed to do? I sat there in silence, looking outside and inside at the same time.
We reached the stop for the UN. I didn’t think I could take the smell anymore. “Breathe through your mouth,” I told myself. God kept telling me that this person needed to be treated with respect. Don’t move. I wondered if others had openly shown him contempt and disgust, treating him as less than a person. “Hang in there,” God said. Just two more stops. I noticed the bright lights of Donauzentrum. “Vapiano. Vapiano. Vapiano.” He took another long drink and pushed the bottle further inside his jacket. He zipped it up higher.
“Rennbahnweg.” I stood to go. He was still there as I exited the train. Where was he going? Would he ride the train all day? Would others stay as far away as possible?
When Jesus was on this earth, he said that “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus was criticized for the people that he hung out with – the poor, the sick, the woman caught in adultery, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the outcasts. He told his disciples and those that confronted him, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9)
The stench is still lingering on my clothing, and he is still on my mind. My prayer is that this one small act of treating him as a human being worthy of riding the u-bahn with me meant something. Or maybe, just maybe, God put him in that train for my benefit.
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity
Because of His Faithfulness,
Sharon C. Brobst, EdD
You can hear “Hosanna” sung by Hillsong here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht5QvAMDMzE