One of my favorite parts of our annual beach trip is getting stuck on the drawbridges.
Sitting between sea and sky, water on all sides, and no way to move, I can turn off my car’s engine and just drink in the loveliness.
Last August, as I sat and waited for the traffic to move, I watched with amusement as the last shrimper chugged along through the channel, followed by a crowd of seagulls. They were fighting for the best positions in the air over the back of the boat as the chum (unwanted fish and aquatic life of various kinds) were tossed out into the ocean behind them. This was a seagull’s dream – a rich scavenging area. Add to that the small fish and other food that can be churned up by the boat’s propellers, there was plenty for easy pickings.
But the birds that amused me the most were the ones that had been hanging out the whole time at the docks. I could see them sitting on the end of the piers, the prime piles occupied according to some sort of seagull ranking. As the catch was off-loaded and the shrimp cleaned, those birds had a front row seat to the leftovers. The late-comers (who had followed the boat) were chased off by the larger, seemingly healthier birds.
Then I thought of the story of the Canaanite woman and her encounter with Christ in Matthew 15
Jesus left and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Suddenly a Canaanite woman from there came out shouting, “Lord and Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons.” Jesus did not say a word. But the woman kept following along and shouting, so his disciples came up and asked him to send her away.
Jesus said, “I was sent only to the people of Israel! They are like a flock of lost sheep.” The woman came closer. Then she knelt down and begged, “Please help me, Lord!”
Jesus replied, “It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs.” “Lord, that’s true,” the woman said, “but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.”
Jesus answered, “Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith, and you will be given what you want.” At that moment her daughter was healed.
Matthew 15:21-28 (Common English Bible)
There are those who, either by reputation, power or rank always have a seat at the table. And then there are many who are outsiders, left to beg for the essentials of daily life. We provide food almost begrudgingly, it seems. Or it seemed that way to me.
This week in my commuting around the county to visit my patients, I went by the same intersection four times in one day. The same man was there, walking up and down the median strip on his crutches, one leg amputated below the knee. The sign around his neck said simply, “Hungry. God bless.”
I didn’t know what led him to that point, but I knew I had plenty of food, and he didn’t. I didn’t want to give him money. (It’s a matter of principle, I don’t know how the money will be spent.) But I had my lunch in a cooler on the seat beside me. I had food.
The first time I was stopped on his side of the street, I offered him a bottle of water and some peanut butter crackers. They were “extras” I had on hand in the car, usually for when I forgot my lunch. I’ll be honest. I felt pretty good about it. I patted myself on the back and drove on.
But later in the day, he was still there panhandling. It had rained and was cool and breezy. All I had left were two small clementine oranges, the perfect, sweet treat at the office as I finish up my charting for the day. As I handed them over, he looked in at me and said, “Fruit? It’s been a long time.”
I watched him in my side mirror as he moved down the line of cars… And then I realized as I drove away I had been giving him crumbs, so to speak, from my table. I’d give him the parts of my meal that were not things I cared about. They were the least of what I had. But giving him something I had reserved for myself… I had given him a seat at the table.
It was, indeed, food for thought.