Twenty years ago I was a student at theological college. I was doing my degree so that I could become a minister in the church. Every year we were required to do a placement to broaden our field of ministry. For me it was also an opportunity to escape the holy halls of the building that housed the college.
It wasn’t an old building. It was modern, wide corridors, a central atrium and chapel to indicate the nave in a Gothic cathedral, four wings extending in the symbol of the cross.
The surrounding bush was brought inside through walls of glass
One year I asked to do a placement in a shelter for homeless people and addicts in Surry Hills. While preparing for the placement, my supervisor asked me what I wanted from it. Along with a few tangible goals, I told him – I want to see the eyes of Christ in people.
As a theological student at the shelter I assisted in church services on a Sunday morning, and then stayed to help serve lunch; often I would come during the week to help with the lunches.
I met many people. The young sex worker who worked along William Street to make just enough money to feed her habit and her child. The man, now clean, but affected by the drugs he had taken in the past, his mobility and speech impaired, but not his mind or his style. He reminded me of a handsome Keith Richard, a black and white striped shirt, black trousers, maybe a hat, black hair. There was some gold. A button? A chain? With his pale face he was a charming contrast of black and white and flash of gold.
One day, I was handing out tokens to the people coming for lunch so they could claim their meal. I imagine they must have paid a dollar or so for a token, I can’t remember because what happened next was what I had come there for.
He was a mountain of a man. Homeless. Grey coat, wiry grey hair. He smelled of the streets. I put the token into dirty hands held out to me. When I looked up and at his face it was lined with dirt and grime and pain and life. And when I looked into his eyes I saw eyes of love that felt as if they looked deep into my soul.
The clarity of his eyes, and the depth of them turned my heart, and I knew, these were the eyes of the Christ that I had come to find.
I can’t remember his name, it is on the tip of my tongue, but my consciousness won’t release it. He used to lie in the small porch of the shelter that used to be a church and drink his metho.
I was taught about the Jesus of Christianity from when I was a small child. The Jesus whose life and death were dark, the horrific death of the cross, the blood that was meant to wash us clean, the grizzly symbolism of eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of the Eucharist.
But who is brought to us in pictures of blond blue-eyed bliss.
How can that saccharine Jesus appear in the eyes of a homeless man in Surry Hills?
Yet, it is not this sugar-coated Jesus we see in each other’s eyes, it is the dark and dusty Jesus, the Jesus of our humanity. With bloodied brow and broken side the humanity of Jesus shines in the Christ Consciousness that has come to lift humanity into a reality vaster than we can know.
The man with the Eyes of the Christ died a couple of weeks after I first met him.
I have never forgotten him.
I don’t think I ever will.