Today, she wasn’t sitting in her usual place by the window sipping Heineken and waiting for “callers.” No, today was Wednesday, her day to go “to the burbs” and see how the other half lived. She liked to shop in those big, fancy grocery stores with all those pretty people who would never frequent her regular haunts. She had a whiskey voice, painted her make-up on with brush and roller and donned leather and spandex like a uniform – the requirements of her station. It was rare for anyone to ever talk to her when she went there. Indeed, it was more common to endure the leering gestures of young ne’er-do-wells under a dare. Or maybe the ‘GAP’ outfitted hard-bodies who only ever looked at her through their peripheral vision long enough to make her feel the sting of their unspoken judgments.
Today, something was different.
His appearance was that of anyone she might have met during any other visit to this bastion of pretension, role-playing, and economic benefit. He wore no brand names that she could see and, for the most part, was indistinguishable from his rather astonished group of buddies (she counted 12) who pretended to be shopping nearby. He politely asked her for the time. She told him she never wore a watch. Her instinctive reaction was that this guy was merely sizing her up like every other guy she’d ever met. But something told her to stay and talk with him. His eyes bespoke a certain gentleness and, contrary to the norm, never left hers.
“Funny, all this food around and so many hungry souls,” he said.
“Yeah, I watch the news. You’re not one of them ‘bleedin’ heart’ types who gets sucked in by the skinny, little African kids on TV, are ya?”
“Well, actually I was speaking in a more…metaphorical sense. I mean, people keep coming back again and again to this place, filling carts to overflowing with stuff that never ultimately satisfies.”
“People gotta eat, don’t they?”
“Sure. But it’s what they don’t eat that keeps them hungry.”
She couldn’t decide whether she was annoyed enough at his rather enigmatic statements to promptly shut this down or intrigued enough to hang around for more. She decided to take the plunge.
“Whaddya mean? Eatin’s simple enough. Ya eat, ya get hungry, ya buy more food.”
“True enough, but I can give you whole storage bins of food that will keep you going forever.”
“OK, count me in. Where do I sign up?”
“Go get your husband and we’ll chat some more.”
She gazed at him incredulously.
“Yeah right. Take a good look, buddy. Do you really think I’m the marrying type?”
“Well, who was that guy who dumped you in the alley last week after he pretended to have good intentions? You’re lucky to be alive.”
“Uuuh… how’d you know about that?”
“You’d be surprised what I know about you.”
Normally a statement so bold and presumptuous would have frightened her to death. Instead she stood mesmerized with curiosity.
“Come on”, he said, “let’s us grab a coffee, I’ve got lots more to tell you.”
I often wonder how many “women at the Mart” we, and Christ by association, pass by every day. How many such folks, who are branded as social losers whether spoken or implied, show up at our door each week? How do such people find Jesus through our language, postures, and “guise” of faith?
Picture the following: the second generation drug user, who has never been inside any church building, who not only doesn’t own a Bible but has never even seen one; the angry youth with self-imposed atheism and hatred of the establishment, especially religious, who stumbles upon us by sheer “accident” looking for the very answers she neither wants nor understands; the desperately bedraggled single Mom who, by incredible force of will against her body’s weary protests, pulls all three of her unimpressed children out of bed on Sunday morning to head to the church she has driven by dozens of times but who, today, inexplicably feels the need to attend; the fifty-one year old executive, let go by a boss half his age through “corporate down-sizing”, forced with the decision to take a 50% cut in pay or face entirely changing the only career he has ever known. All that in a marketplace environment which worships “young and fresh”, disdaining whatever experience he has painstakingly accumulated over his 30 year career; the 15-year-old pastor’s daughter whose quest for attention and a “cool” testimony becomes pregnant casting her family’s reputation and ministry into disrepute and chaos; the high school drop out whose body bruises never have enough time to heal until more appear at the hands of an alcoholic father; the drug addicted mother whose “street time” is only interrupted long enough for her to disappear for days at a time to some crack house where her personal esteem can disappear even more….
Such are the ones to whom Jesus says, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. Such are the ones who “once…were alienated from God…but now [are] reconciled…by Christ’s physical body through death….” Such are the ones about whom Jesus says, “your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” Such are the ones we are called to seek and serve. As disciples of Christ, what should we do in preparation for such a lofty and costly call?
Whatever it takes.