Not too long ago I was at the market with another woman and as we made our way from the produce area to the meat section we passed the deli. As we slowly traversed we noticed an older woman lingering at a station that had heated soup tureens with a variety of soup. The store had set out small paper condiment cups so the customers could sample the soups before actually filling up a takeout container for purchase. I stopped to check out the fruit and the soup station was not too far off.
My companion said to me, "Look that woman is not sampling but is really stealing soup". Yes, the woman was not sampling, but feasting. She would fill one of the small cups and wander back to her cart. I watched her savor each little cup of soup as if it were prime rib. Imagine a picture of a very dignified woman, thin or maybe even gaunt. She had a small purse with a handle that she had to keep pushing back up onto her wrist. She must have filled at least a half a dozen tiny cups while we were watching. She was trying so hard to be discreet, but it was clear she favored one soup over all the others. Occasionally she would wander over to another area of the deli as if she were carefully shopping for other things. But, then she would return to the soup.
My young companion was incredulous. Stealing is wrong. Well, yes I suppose, but we don't really know what her situation is today. Is she trying to live on a very small social security income? Did her husband pass away and part of the income died with him? Did the company where she had worked for 40 years go bankrupt and all of her retirement funds lost? The one thing we do know is that she did not pull out a Tupperware container from a large purse, fill it up and quietly return the container to her purse. That is all we know except that the woman was hungry. There were no signs indicating a limit on the tiny sampling containers. And, how many of us have gone to Cosco and made sure that we hit all of the sampling stations? By the way, I never eat before I go to Cosco.
In John 21:15-19 we read about a conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter about love and feeding the sheep. Jesus speaks consistently about His sheep. The sheep do not belong to us. They belong to Jesus. We are undershepherds who also belong to Jesus first above all else. And of course, the text is speaking not about physical food but spiritual food. But, for me it all folds neatly into the same package. We are a nation of abundance and no person should go hungry in such a nation.
On the other side of the coin, I have witnessed so many abuses surrounding food. Some practices within the community of those struggling with addictions don't always have to be labeled as stealing. It more often is a case of getting all you can get while you can get it. Many organizations, churches, and individuals endeavor to make sure that every family has a turkey at Thanksgiving. Many of those recipients end up with 4 or 5 turkeys that they do not have storage capacity for, that they have received from a variety of sources. People struggling with addiction will sell their food stamps for cash so that they can use the money to purchase drugs or alcohol and then make the rounds of organizations that will provide food for them.
Missions and soup kitchens across this country provide services for all types of people, some of them receive services year after year. For some there is no movement toward independence. They use the mission to balance the budget. Eventually missions may require the person to submit to case management before any more services are rendered. Sometimes the person just moves on to other service providers in the community rather than have someone in their "business". The hope of every missionary is that the person will embrace Jesus and that their life will be a transformed. Sometimes it just does not happen.
About now, you must be wondering what happened to the story about the very dignified older woman. I want to add to the list of possible reasons she was feasting at the soup counter. She also may be struggling with addictions and has used her monthly check for her own addiction. Or she may be caring for her meth addicted daughter's children and there isn't much money left for her food.
I, along with others have noticed in the news recently statements that are in conflict with logic. We have two wars going on in this country about food. The first is child obesity. The second is starving children. Now you have to laugh about that, even though it is not a laughing matter. In some circles I am known as the "food lady", having been involved in all sorts of programs, personal and public, to make sure people have good healthful food. But Jesus said "Feed my lambs", and we know that it is always our first responsibility to spread the gospel. I also quote Micah 6:8. "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God". That says it all about how we should live. Today I lifted up the little woman in prayer. Jesus knows the problem. I don't have to labor over it. I love you Jesus.
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