John 21:15-18 says: “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.'”
I love this particular verse because I’ve always considered Peter to be “everyman”–the guy who messed up in every way possible while he was with Jesus, but whom Jesus loved the most despite all this. In this, he’s a stand-in for most of us. Here Jesus basically says to him, “Put your money where your mouth is.”
I decided to do that by helping give Thanksgiving dinner to what turned out to be 800 homeless people at our church on the day before Thanksgiving.
My spiritual handicap has always been narcissism. This problem first showed itself when I decided to become a Catholic and was confirmed: when I got home I realized that I had polished my shoes but not dried them properly, so when I knelt down, I got brown shoe polish all over the back of my stockings and had to walk back down the aisle looking (unbeknownst to me) pretty ridiculous.
Since I know myself so well, I said a little prayer: “Please let me not only do the right thing, but do it in the RIGHT WAY.” But of course I started out by TELLING everyone about it? NOT a good beginning!
Then I figured: well, I can’t control my thoughts, but I can control what I DO, so I’ll just go ahead and do it. I cooked a turkey the day before and delivered it to the church early on Wednesday morning, so the carvers could start working on it. Then I showed up at 1:30, with Whitley in tow, to start cooking.
They were truly delighted to see Whitley?they grabbed him right away, gave him a jacket that said “Security” on it, and stationed him by the gate. He was supposed to separate the volunteers from the “guests” and make sure the homeless people who were there for dinner went around the front and stood in line with everyone else, instead of cutting in line by sneaking in the back way. There was plenty of food for everyone, but some of them may not have realized this.
This was a perfect job for HIM, karma-wise, since he has become rather wary and critical of people he doesn’t know, since being attacked so vehemently about his book Communion.
I’m one of the few people I’ve met who actually KNOWS HOW to make gravy, so I volunteered for that job. When I arrived, I found out that all the gravy being served was canned, so there was my first humbling experience right there: my job was to open cans, pour the gravy into huge pots and heat it up.
But it turns out I wasn’t even considered experienced enough to do that?I was assigned to be a “gravy spotter,” meaning that I kept an eye on the serving tables and made sure that none of the servers one ran out of gravy, and when their bowls started running low, I refilled them.
It was hard work, and some of us gals in the “gravy gang” got a little spacey after a while. We got some strange looks when two of us did an impromptu rendition of the old rock song “Give me g-r-a-v-v-y on my mashed potatoes” right there in the dining area.
Two of the people who were acting as waiters, bringing food to the long tables where rows of people were sitting, returned to the servers and said, “I need a vegetarian plate.” I thought, “Here are people without enough to eat, but they’re sticking to their principles.” When one of the servers started to ladle gravy over the mashed potatoes on one of these plates, I said, “Watch out, he may be a vegan.”
One couple brought their seeing eye dog and we gave her a couple of plates of turkey, as well as some water to drink. I had invited my “lucky lady,” but I didn’t spot her–however, there were 800 people there during a 3 hour period, so I may have overlooked her.
One funny incident occurred: I was taking a break, sitting on a bench in the foyer, across from a group of high school volunteers. I saw a man come in with what looked like a five- year-old in tow. He stood in the doorway for a minute with his back to us, assessing the situation, then left. I decided he was probably a volunteer whose job was to purchase any last minute provisions that we ran out of.
I never saw his face, but I DID see one of the high school girls across from me staring after him, with her jaw literally hanging open. I thought to myself, “Whoever that was, it was obviously someone she recognized, probably a TV star.”
When I finally met up with Whitley and we staggered home together and compared notes, he told me that his job had been particularly interesting, because he met people–both volunteers and “guests”–whom he wouldn’t normally have had a chance to talk to.
While drifting off to sleep that night, I reflected that religions have so many “rules” about what you should and shouldn’t do to make yourself what might be called “holy,” but the reality is that feeding the homeless is probably about the closest that any of us come to that. Thus it was a real privilege to be allowed to do it.
If anyone praises me for what I did, I’m going to remember that.
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