You never know when it might be the messiah calling
Several years ago, I came across a little tidbit of trivia that knocked me for a loop. While reading an obscure English journal, I discovered that, on what must have been the strangest of evenings, the great wit and wildly flamboyant bon vivant, Oscar Wilde, once delivered a lecture in Leadville.
Although such a discovery may not startle you as it did me, I need only suggest that Mr. Wilde’s appearance at the Opera House in front of a gathering of 19th century miners is tantamount to Pee Wee Herman leading cheers at an Avalanche game.
I simply cannot imagine what that night must have been like S rough and ready “89ers growling through their beards as they sat and listened to the one man who, more than anyone else, foretold a new world order in the midst of the Victorian Age.
You may remember that it was Wilde who was sent to prison in England for the crime of being a homosexual. His mores and morals were shocking to most, and his behavior only served to exaggerate the opposition. The opportunity to throw him in the slammer for his nocturnal activities was considered a divine gift by many.
Personally, I’ve considered much of Wilde’s writings a divine gift to me.
Take, for instance, this memorable quote: “One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing.”
I think of that quote often when I am tempted to romanticize my concern for those less fortunate. It is so very easy to talk glibly of the plight of the poor, the oppressed, the homeless. It is quite another thing to get to know them.
You may find it as easy as I do to quickly write off a check to our favorite charity, content in the satisfaction we have fulfilled our altruistic obligation.
The truth, of course, is that such activity often simply shields us from having to really get involved with those people we would just as soon forget.
Because of where I work, I often have the opportunity to meet a wide variety of folks who are down on their luck. On far too many occasions, I find myself not wanting to hear their tales of woe.
It’s not that I won’t help them. I usually do. But my help comes from a checkbook or a wallet, and not from the heart.
I don’t want to have my life interrupted by having to get to know these unfortunate visitors.
I sometimes wonder how many fascinating people and interesting stories I have missed out on by my reluctance to listen, my hesitation to really care. Mr. Wilde’s prophetic word is a constant critique and a valued reminder.
Another divinely inspired writer, Leo Tolstoy, tells the wonderful story of Martin the Cobbler who once was told that the messiah was coming to visit him that very day.
Excited, he spent the duration awaiting the honored guest’s arrival. Unfortunately, Martin was constantly being interrupted in his waiting by folks who needed his assistance S a child who was lost, a woman who was hungry, a beggar who was impoverished. Occupied by all these distractions, the old cobbler spent the entire day helping those in need. Suddenly, he realized that the day was gone and the promised messiah never arrived.
Of course, the short story ends with the announcement that the long awaited guest had made his appearance in each of the troubled souls who appeared before Martin and to whom he had shown such kindness and grace.
By nearly every account, Oscar Wilde would never be mistaken for the messiah, and, yet, his profound pronouncement reminds me of how often I have mistakenly missed the messiah’s arrival.
Columnist Rich Mayfield appears in this space on Saturdays. On Sundays, he works for the messiah at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon.
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