Monday, November 23, 2015

A Story for Thanksgiving - The Least of These

My daughter Melanie and me, 1974
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this seems like a pertinent story to share. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

© Linda Goodman 2013

Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

I remember when the economy crashed in 2008. Many people lost their jobs and things looked bleak. People were scared, and rightfully so.

I was one of the lucky ones. When the company I was working for went bankrupt, I was remembered by several former colleagues who had segued into management elsewhere. I had made good impressions upon them, and I received multiple job offers from them.

I ended up working in downtown Richmond. Every day on the way from the bus stop to my job, I passed people who were holding signs that said that they were hungry. I made it a habit to always carry dollar bills with me, and, while trying not to draw attention, I gave one to each needy person I passed. Well-meaning friends warned me that the money I gave would most likely go to drugs or alcohol.

Their warning made me think back to 1969, when I was hungry myself. I was unemployed and pregnant with my daughter.  My husband (now ex-husband) was a self-employed musician. We never knew if we would make it from one paying gig to the next. At his gigs, my husband was usually treated to meals by his fans, or the club where he was working. I was living on Campbell's Soup for lunch and supper. I skipped breakfast.

A couple lived down the road from us, and I felt compassion for them because neither of them was working. One of their parents was helping out with the rent, "But we have no food," the wife told me. "We're starving."

I had no money to help with their situation, but I had stockpiled Campbell's Soup the last time I had found it on sale. I set aside half of my soup cans and watched and waited for a few days, until I saw the two of them leave their house together. Then I took the soup I had set aside to their house and pushed each can through their mail slot. This way, they would not know who their benefactor was, and they would not feel embarrassed around me. Knowing that I was helping them made me feel good. I had visions of their happiness when they came home and found the soup.  They would be ecstatic.

The next time I saw the two of them, they were agitated. “Somebody put canned soup through our mail slot,” the man complained. “I don’t mind somebody helping us out, but getting canned soup is an insult!”

I was in shock. “I like canned soup,” I told them. “I eat it every day.”

“We’ll give the soup to you, then,” the woman offered. “Frankly, I’d rather have nothing at all to eat than to have to eat canned soup,” she added.

“If someone really wanted to help,” the man continued, “he would have given us the cash and let us buy what we like.”

I went back home with the soup. I don’t think they ever realized that I was the culprit. Throughout my pregnancy, I continued to eat that soup. I was glad to have it, too.

My intentions towards the couple were honest and sincere, just as my intentions towards the hungry people that I met in Richmond were honest and sincere. Some of those hungry people may have felt that a dollar was not enough. I have no way of knowing that.

What I do know is that my actions were motivated by scripture, by my personal memories of being poor, and by my desire to help those in dire straits. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus blesses those who come to the aid of “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.” I see no reason to cease doing so just because I don’t know to what use the aid will be put.  That is between the "least of these" and God.