Most days during the work week, I spend time near downtown Indianapolis working on projects for a client. And every once in a while, I head down the street to have lunch at a famous Italian restaurant that has been there for years and years. In fact, when we moved to Indianapolis 31 years ago, this particular eating establishment was one of the first places where I had dinner before Janet and the kids even moved down to join me.
From that first event so many years ago, I have only been back to the place several times. Almost three years ago, a different client of mine hosted their Christmas party there and it was something of a surreal experience. After all the intervening years, here I was, back at one of the places where it all started for me in Indy. We had a great time and then it was over.
More recently, meaning this year, I have been back an additional five or six times – mainly out of convenience – within walking distance of where I spend quite a bit of time. And every time I head to the restaurant, I pass a specialty market that I have always been interested in seeing. You know, one of those places that handles exotic cheeses and sausages; fine wines and other gourmet food items that some of us tend to frequent when we are throwing a party or looking for a special gift. I have passed that place many times but have never taken the time to go in – until today.
I was invited to lunch at the Italian place and after the meal, before I was due back for a meeting in the office, I had a few minutes to spare. I decided it was time to check out the gourmet shop, so I headed across the street. At first, I didn’t see the entrance so I went around the other side of the building. Admittedly, I was anticipating what kind of goodies I would find inside. After all, with Christmas being around the corner, maybe I could find a few neat gadgets as stocking stuffers. And I really like going in places like this.
So I headed through the door and suddenly I was in a different world – not the one I was expecting. The place was old and there were plain wire shelves all around. The lighting was fair at best and the shelves were filled with all sorts of packages – cereal, obscure brands of crackers, taped up cartons of rolls and other products – and an area holding plastic bags full of gummy bears and candy corn – like five pounds worth for $3. This wasn’t a gourmet food store; no, it was a place for the poor folks in the neighborhood to get their groceries. It was more like a food pantry.
And for some reason I was drawn to walk up and down the aisles. There were several mothers shopping with their small children – looking through the various taped up cartons of cereal trying to find something they could bring home to feed their families. They were carefully and methodically searching through the shelves making the most economical purchases they could, trying to save what little money they had. It was evident that some of the food may have been stale – things like the five pound bag of those sugar coated orange candies (remember Chuckles?) for less than $5. And those candy corns I mentioned earlier. The dairy case marked for milk was filled with some off brand soft drinks. There wasn’t any milk in the place.
I have to share with you that I was totally unprepared for what I was seeing. Here I was thinking for all these years that this was some special upscale place and all along I was totally ignorant of what was really going on behind those doors. A neighborhood place catering to the needs of the folks who probably can’t afford to go to the Kroger or the other regular supermarkets. Poorer people with dignity who were trying to make the most of the meager funds availability to them.
I felt a little guilty – like I was invading their private space but that was my issue – they did nothing to cause me to feel that way. Everyone went about their own business and there was no hint of judgment, even though I was standing there in my leather jacket, with a designer scarf around my neck. I kept thinking there was something that I should be doing.
I was thinking about Jesus and the poor folks – those who are marginalized and on the perimeter of society. The verse for this evening is from the prophet Isaiah who speaks to the people on behalf of God. He tells us, and them, in Is. 58:7, “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
It is important to remember, especially at this time of year, that God wants us to reach out and take care of those who are less fortunate than we are. As Christ followers, God encourages us to take care of all of His people and today was an enlightening moment for me. My prayer is that you will recognize the opportunities that are put before you to remember the marginalized and poor. Sometimes, at least I tend to forget them and perhaps you do as well. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…