“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish…” -Isaiah 58:6
The man was hard to miss as he came closer to my station in the food line. Not because of his disheveled shirt, tinged and dirty at the edges, nor because of his scuffed and worn sneakers with tattered laces. What was hard to overlook on that hot summer day as he shuffled through the line of our mobile food pantry was his urine-stained khakis. A grown man, no more able to hide his “accident” than a kindergartner in the front row of a school choir concert.
But the line for the food pantry begins to form early in the day, so it was quite possible he’d been waiting in line for over two hours. And line placement is critical because the further back in line you are, the greater your chances for many or all of the food to run out.
And he clearly needed the food.
So he had to choose: Degrade himself by soaking his pants? or go hungry?
That’s all I remember of the man.
Well, almost all I remember. I hadn’t been helping with the food pantry very long at that time, and I was still nervous about how to interact with “those people” on the receiving side of the table. I didn’t always know what to say and I sometimes ended up trying a little too hard. With this man, the only thing I kept thinking over and over was don’t stare at his pants, don’t stare at his pants, don’t stare at his pants. And as he got closer to my food station, I worked hard to hold steady and look at his face, though his eyes were cast down. And then, the moment I’d been waiting for happened as he stopped at my station for the food (was I at the fruit table that day? I can’t recall), he looked up and met my eyes briefly and then cast them down again.
I hope he was relieved to find my eyes there waiting to meet his gaze instead of staring at his embarrassing stain. And I hope the warm smile I tried to flash quick enough for him to see, was in fact seen by him. I’ll never know because the moment was over so quickly, and he never said a word. I don’t know if I made any kind of an impression on him at all. But, I know he made one on me. Not for being a grown man who wet himself, but for having the courage to persevere despite how completely exposed he must have felt.
Like Jesus on the Cross.
Mother Teresa has said about the poor that “each of them is Jesus in disguise.” I sometimes wonder how that can possibly be, but when I think of that man, I somehow understand it better.
Today we are reminded through the prophet Isaiah that while fasting from material things like food and Facebook are good and honorable, the fast that God longs for us to do most is to give up our time to clothe in dignity “those people” who have less than us. “Those people” who suffer with impossible decisions every day like whether they should go hungry or relieve themselves in private.
It’s been a long time since I’ve worked the mobile food pantry line, and there is not one in our area now. But I heard God calling me through Isaiah today, reminding me it is time to “get my hands dirty” again and go out and serve “those people,” so I can better serve Him.
Reflect: What is one step you could take today to bring yourself a little closer to the poor in your community? If you don’t already give money, could you find a charity to support? If you already give of your money, could you give a little of your time to serve? If you already give of your time to serve, could you give your friendship? We can never out-give God. How is God inviting you to practice more generosity today?
Pray: Generous God, we know all good and perfect things come from you. Help us to imitate your generosity, your kindness, your love, and compassion to those who need it most in our community. Open our eyes to those who are most in need and inspire our hearts to make time to love and serve them. Amen.