About five years ago we moved to downtown South Bend. We moved into a “transitional” neighborhood, which is what realtors call it when they think you’ll be concerned a lot of the neighborhood is not as white and wealthy as you are. We love living downtown, especially being able to walk places. Walk past the same people enough times, and you start to recognize them. If they’ve asked you for money and you’ve obliged, they start to recognize you, too.
One day I was walking back from the library when two men I didn’t recognize ducked into an alley I was about to walk past. One of them stood lookout, which seemed suspicious to me. Still I nodded at him as I went by, and he nodded back. Then he said, “Hey, mister!” I turned around mostly because I didn’t want anything at this point happening behind my back. “Do you have any cash to spare? My buddy is looking for food in the dumpster. I don’t want food from the dumpster.” I looked down the alley, and his buddy sure enough had one leg over the edge into the bin. I’ve been told before that giving cash just “enables” people (as though there are no drug addicts with well-paying jobs), but somebody could have a needle hanging from his tied-off arm and I wouldn’t want him to eat from a dumpster. I had $3 on me, so I gave it to him. He called to his companion that they could buy real food.
Some people who read this will think I made a bad call. They will think these guys could have gone to a food pantry or a homeless center. They may say these guys need to learn from the consequences of whatever decision brought them to this sorry state.
But I’ve learned something else from living downtown.
Our house is on a fairly busy street. Several less busy streets intersect it at two-way stops. Each one of these signs has a warning: “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop.” At least once a day, somebody ignores the warning and flies into the intersection. When they’re lucky we hear the screeching tires. When they’re unlucky we hear the sickening crunch and shatter. So far, thank God, no one has been so unlucky that we’ve heard the ambulance take them away.
My point is that the people driving on our street are following all the rules. They have no idea that life is about to plow into them at an intersection. The rules didn’t protect them. Following the rules is no guarantee of your safety – be it vehicular, physical, or financial. No one starts their day hoping to get into a crash. No one starts their life planning to eat from a dumpster either, but life can force us through some pretty nasty intersections. And sometimes it can bless us with an intersection that lets us help someone else.
We can sit in judgment of whether someone belongs at our table, or deserves to be at any table, but we’re all one bad intersection away from lost dignity.
Jesus said he came for the sick, not the well. If the only people we invite to the table are the people we think deserve it, we’re not ministering to the same people Jesus was. Turning people away from the communion table is like sending them to find dinner among the garbage. Sometimes you can’t make a good decision until you are relieved of the pain of hunger – be it physical or spiritual.
We all hunger for love and dignity. Christ offers it to us in bread and wine. Let’s share it generously.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.