Feeding Jesus

The raggedy old man’s entrance into our church hall made me nervous. He was clearly a street person and was weaving a bit, so I figured he was drunk.

That Sunday, the table was laden with platters of cold meats, cheeses and desserts. The usual crowd of well-dressed folks were partaking of the delights. As the man approached the table, I turned away.

But another woman rose to the occasion. She greeted the man and invited him to fill his plate. How simple her solution is, I thought, as I watched him dig in. And how telling that I had just been to Mass — and yet missed the obvious opportunity for discipleship.

Oh, yes, I am familiar with Hebrews 13:2 — “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” I have also read the passage in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus talks to his disciples about welcoming him when he was hungry, thirsty, lonely or unclothed. Of course, they were baffled by his words until he explained: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

In this way, Jesus told his friends to seek him in unexpected places. They might have been inclined to look for God among the wealthy and the powerful, but Jesus wanted them to know — he wants us to know — that he is everywhere, even among “these least brothers.” In fact, he is there most especially.

I am ashamed to admit that my first reaction upon seeing the raggedy man in our church hall was to turn away. Nor am I proud to say that I often do the same when I encounter someone seeking a handout on the street.

I provide myself with the usual excuses. I don’t have extra money. He might be dangerous. So, that day in the church hall, my friend’s spontaneous reaction astonished me. She simply did what she would have done had a bishop walked into the room. She welcomed the man and gave him food.

Like her, I had partaken of Christ’s body and blood earlier that morning in Mass. I had accepted Christ coming to me under the most mysterious “disguise” of all — bread and wine. But, unlike her, I failed to make the connection in the church hall.

Later that day, I re-read the conclusion of Matthew 25: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

And I remember the scene from the Last Supper, when Jesus prophesied that one of the Twelve would betray him. Several of them asked, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” Each knew, in his human frailty, that he was capable of such treachery. Or maybe, in their human pride, they were more interested in being thought not capable of it.

We think of the betrayal as happening that one time, with Judas. But perhaps it is something that happens every time we turn our back on one of the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

I’m sure the raggedy man will show up again in our church hall. And I pray that I will not turn my back on him, but welcome him instead. Not just as an angel in disguise, but as Christ himself.

Lorraine V. Murray is the author of Grace Notes: Embracing the Joy of Christ in a Broken World.