I hosted a sales presentation luncheon yesterday, and afterwards I was left with extra food – nearly three trays of hoagies (that’s what we people in Philadelphia call "subs"), enough to serve about thirty guests. So as I’m cleaning up I ask some people what I can do with the food – were there people in our building who could eat it, was there a local soup kitchen that could use it? I got lots of shrugged shoulders – we weren’t sure what to do with the food.
Then a mailman, who had ducked into our space for a few minutes of rest, spoke up. "Excuse me for eavesdropping, but you should try the Bethesda Mission, downtown. They might take the food." I called the Mission, but the food director of this urban ministry was not available. Rather than simply give up and dump the food, I drove downtown and showed up at the Bethesda Mission with three trays of hoagies, a box of condiments, and almost 2 dozen cans of soda. They were thrilled, and immediately three gentlemen helped me carry the food into their large, walk-in refrigerator. I got the sense that they rarely see sales representatives dropping off left-over sandwiches from sales luncheons.
The folks at the Bethesda Mission were grateful – but not as much as I was. If it weren’t for the Bethesda Mission – and the mailman who happened to eavesdrop on my conversation – I wouldn’t have been able to feed 20-30 needy people with my excess food.
Places like Bethesda Mission not only exist for the needy, but also for the rest of us. They serve the poor when we don’t want to serve. Yet they also serve us when we feel the urge or opportunity (or overwhelming class privilege guilt) to serve others, by welcoming our energies, our gifts, our presence in their servant midst. When our urge or opportunity to serve inevitably wanes, their calling continues, and for that I give thanks to God. For if feeding the hungry depended on my supply of surplus hoagies, or on my urge to get off my comfortable suburban ass and do something – well, then, the hungry would not get fed and our society would be much worse off.
Yesterday I was fed by the folks at Bethesda Mission. But why should we be surprised? Feeding, nurturing, caring – it’s what they do for all who hunger.