God forgive me.
The man was standing off to one side, not sure if he could interrupt me. His was the demeanor of a homeless man who realized the indignity to both of having to impose on passersby. I was on the phone to a relative, but I quickly ended my conversation and approached him.
He was missing many of his teeth, so it was difficult to make out what he was saying, espescially since he was speaking very gently. He was a black man in a very white and very rich neighborhood, which may have added to his unease.
After a couple of gentle repeatings it turns out he was looking for food, for where the banquet was at. But the church wasn't going to be holding its requiem mass until Monday. He was there a day early. He mentioned "Peachtree and Pine" at some point, which confused me, as the banquet was here.
His speech was somewhat disjointed, and I tried to follow. But I invited him in and showed him the hall it was going to take place in. He seemed a bit uncomfortable, those who were there were in very nice clothing and the presence of so much stained glass and brass seemed out of his comfort zone. But I reminded him this is a church, and it's open, VERY open, to everyone. I shook his ashy hand warmly to his immense surprise and took the elbow of his arm in my other hand, which he appreciated. I asked him to please stop apologizing for coming here, as he is more than welcome.
I had some money in my pocket: gas money which I needed, a contribution to the collection (which was going to go to help the homeless) and some spare cash, about six dollars or so. I gave him the six dollars and told him if he was hungry (he seemed unfamiliar with the area) there was a Publix very close by. He was even more surprised and grateful and pledged to return.
As I came back in I noticed some volunteers packing food together onto carts.
"Did I get the date wrong?" I asked, thoroughly confused.
"No, we're donating a meal to the homeless at Peachtree and Pine."
My heart sank as I realized I'd just directed a man AWAY from a great meal. There was key lime pie, steak and an entire mound of food: and not just easily and cheaply made in bulk sandwiches or spaghetti - this was definitely church members wanting to do something special.
"There's a homeless shelter", the volunteer continued, moving boxes onto a pallet, "at Peachtree and Pine."
"Oh dear" I said, "there was someone here LOOKING for that. Let me see if I can catch him."
The volunteer tried to say something, but I was out the door. The grounds are extensive and I looked, but our visitor was long gone.
I came back, dejectedly.
"I think I just sent someone AWAY from the meal you promised."
He looked at me solemnly
"I was trying to tell you, it's for the people already at the shelter, they're not taking people in off the street."
And both of us felt something as the import of that took hold. So much need, no little charity. So little justice. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and right now a man is heading to Publix with six dollars for whatever he can buy with it, when I could have given him thirty six and given extra to the church later, putting the gas on my credit card.
But there I was, in the heat of the moment, already having compartmentalized and triaged the money I had. Reflexively: this is for my needs, this is for the church, you get what's left.
That's NOT what I was supposed to do.
I know God will forgive me. The hard part is forgiving myself.