You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have meJohn 12:8
Yesterday I gave a friend a lift to Topeka, for an eye appointment.
I had an hour to kill, so I stopped in at the Burger King for a drink and some free Wi-Fi. As I was sitting there looking through my phone I became aware of someone looking at me through the window. It was a couple in their late 60s, and they weren’t looking at me, they were looking at the poster on the window.
The poster advertised “2 for $5” burgers. They were standing outside, discussing the options, and making preparations to come inside and order. It was at that moment that I realized they were the third couple I’d seen, now, taking advantage of the deal. When it hit me, it was like a punch in the gut:
These people were here to eat because it was all they could afford.
I, on the other hand had just spent $3 on my drink (!!!) and had thought nothing about it. I, on the other hand was planning to pick up my friend and head to Red Robbin for a $10+ burger. When I realized that I was literally surrounded by people struggling to get by, I felt ashamed.
I am not struggling. Sure, inflation has been tough. Gas prices are out of this world. I feel the pinch like everybody else. Or so I had been thinking. No, there are people out there, people in my community who are struggling just to get food in their bellies.
Perhaps I was the one that needed the eye appointment. Here I was, in the presence of some real hard living people, and I had been blind to it.
I was reminded of that famous line from Jesus, “The poor you will have with you always”. I wondered, if Jesus were here, sitting in this booth with me, would I have anointed him like the woman in the scriptures did? She had anointed him with perfume, a gesture of great honor and love. I had no perfume to give, only the large Diet Coke in front of me.
And Jesus wasn’t there. Not physically, anyway. The point of Jesus’ message was not that it was okay to ignore the poor. It was that the next best thing to blessing Jesus directly was to direct that blessing to those who need it most. I like the way the same sentence is rendered in the Gospel of Mark:
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.Mark 14:7
I can help them any time I want. Well, here I was, in the presence of some needy people, and I didn’t know how to help. I said a weak prayer for them, and I actually said a prayer for the good people at Burger King. No, their “2 for $5 burgers” were no substitute for a healthy meal, not that I was planning to have one either, but they were providing some pretty tasty sustenance in a way people could receive it.
And so, the least I can say is that my eyes have been reopened to the problem of poverty and hunger. I will be taking a hard look at what I can do to help. My church has a food pantry, and low budget cooking classes, and I’m happy for that. But maybe there’s a more personal way I can anoint Christ by anointing the blessed ones in my midst. All I can say is, I’ll keep looking.
As I ate my unlimited french fries at Red Robin, I felt a little ashamed. Ashamed of my own affluence. Ashamed of eating an unhealthy meal when I didn’t have to. But Christ doesn’t want our shame. Christ wants us to care, and to put that care into action.
Are there burgers in the Kingdom of God? I don’t know, but that Kingdom extends to earth right here and right now, especially when you and I participate in it. Burger King may have served some hungry folks yesterday…
but I must stay dedicated to the King that I serve.
Have a great week