Christ of the Bread Lines - Fritz Eichenberg
Jim Wallis of the Sojourners Community in Washington DC used to relate a story about one of their soup kitchen helpers. The homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted, would be lining up outside, waiting to shuffle through and get their food. Before the doors opened the helpers would join hands and pray spontaneously.
One of the women in the team would often pray along these lines: ‘Jesus, help us to treat you good, because we know you’ll be coming through in the line.’ She was praying that the hidden, anonymous Christ, who would be there among the poor, would give them the grace to treat him with love and respect.
I thought about this story when I read in today’s second reading the words of St Paul to the Corinthians, telling them that they are waiting for Christ to be revealed (1 Cor1.7). It is a reference to the final appearing of Christ, to the end of time, but it makes us think also of Christ revealed in our midst, here and now. One of the effects of grace should be to sharpen our eyes so that we catch glimpses of Christ in the lives of those around us.
I think of a friend who told me of an experience of great pain during a surgical investigation, when he poured his suffering into the wounds of Christ on the cross. I have glimpsed Christ when people forgave others at great cost, because Christ urged them to do so.
Many years ago in South Africa I often glimpsed Christ when his followers ignored the barriers of race, because they knew that race meant nothing to him. For people of faith there can be many epiphanies in life.
In the season of Advent we put ourselves into the position of waiting for Christ. We remember the promises of the coming of the Messiah. We reflect that we are between times, between his historical presence in the incarnation, and his final transforming presence in the second coming. Yet this waiting is not a passive, inert thing. Rather, our waiting is an attempt to clear our cluttered thoughts so that we can focus more on who Christ is and what he asks of us today. Hence, too, the note of urgency in the gospel today where Christ himself urges us to be attentive (Mark 13.33-37). Any moment, any place, God can be revealed. Any moment, any place, can bring to us a challenge or at least a possibility, where the will of God can be fulfilled. To be awake, alert, aware, is to be more able to recognise the moment where we acknowledge the reality of God among us.
What is the opposite of being awake? I would submit that it is not, in this case, being asleep – instead, it is day-dreaming. We all daydream through large swathes of time. We dream of what we could be if we had more money, better looks, good fortune. We play little dramas in our minds in which we triumph. And all the time around us real opportunities slip through our fingers, Christ moves past us unnoticed, and God’s moment is lost. As we read in Isaiah today, ‘No one invoked your name or roused himself to catch hold of you’ (64.7).
Traditionally Advent and the coming of Christ bring thoughts of our accountability to him. Let this not be a source of dread but rather of hope: that, in the prayer of the soup line, he himself may have given us such grace that we treated him well, even when we did not recognise him in our midst.
Fr Terry is parish priest at St Mary's in Finchley East, north London. Fr Terry's latest book: Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see: http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=16114