Upon arrival, we noticed that there was a young woman sitting cross-legged in front of the restaurant.
Maybe you have noticed her or others like her.
The woman that we saw was named Mary. She was in her late teens, though she looked much younger. Her hair was unkept, her face was tanned and quite dirty, and her hands were black from sitting on the ground with her little bowl that asks for donations.
As three people who are involved in professional ministry, we decided that we would invite Mary to join us for supper.
Slightly taken aback, Mary gathered her few possessions, looked around and followed us into the deli. We walked with her to the counter and told her that she could order whatever she liked.
Mary ordered a simple meat dish with a side of rice and another side of vegetables. She asked if it was okay to also order a slice of cake and one of those little juice bottles with the lid that screws back on. Unlike the rest of us, Mary ordered all of her food to go. The staff was helpful, though they looked at her as if she did not belong.
After paying for our food, we found a table in the dining room and began to eat our supper. Pleasantries were quickly exhausted and we began to ask Mary about herself, where she lives and how she ended up on the street.
The story that Mary told was not a pleasant one.
She spoke of a rather dysfunctional home, living in a cardboard box and how hard the winter had been with many of the heating grates already occupied by other individuals. There was mention of substance abuse, prostitution and doing "whatever was needed" to get by.
What I found remarkable was watching Mary eat. She was far more methodical than we were and ate at a much slower space.
What I did not realize until after we were well into the meal was that Mary was cutting all of her food into two equal pieces. She consumed one half and I assumed she was keeping the other half for a time when someone did not invite her for supper or when the pennies in her bowl did not amount to enough to buy food.
Something caught Mary's eye and her face lit up. Shortly thereafter, a tall, very slender man came up to the table and enquired as to whether or not Mary was "okay."
She introduced the young man as her boyfriend, tried to introduce the tree of us by name and invited the man to take a seat at the table. After taking his seat, Mary took the box of food that she had cut into two and presented it to him so that he also could eat.
After eating his half of the meal, they both stood up, offered their thanks, extended their hand in friendship and left the restaurant.
For me, the gesture, which Mary provided, was profound. Her love for her friend was simple and demonstrated very concretely.
She was obviously hungry and could certainly have used all the food for herself. She was also obviously very, very grateful.
For our part, we sat back and talked about how quickly we ate our food, how ungrateful we were for that which we had received and how there was nothing truly noble about our invitation to Mary to join us at table.
"All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.""
Mary demonstrated for us that we were the sinners. Smug over our act of kindness, this young woman with a rather tainted and scarred past reversed the roles of those who were gathered. Without ever speaking a word, she demonstrated how truly selfish we were and how real love is exercised in dividing up one's bounty for someone else in need.
All in all, the story provides us a brief glimpse into the unconditional and unbounded love which God has for his people. The story also provides us with the simple message that nothing can ever separate us from the love which he has promised.
I encourage you to spend some time with the story of The Prodigal Son.
Where do you fit into this narrative?
With which character do you most identify yourself?
Are you as generous as the Father or as generous as Mary?
Has this season been an opportunity and a period for reversals, metanoias or conversions in your own life?
Is there someone in your life right now with who you are being invited to share your food - whether that food in material or spiritual?
Despite our sinfulness and our unwillingness to live as children of the covenant, Lent calls us back to remember that God so loved the world that in the fullness of time, he sent us his only Son, so that we might not parish but have eternal life.
May this season of recreation and renewal bring you joy!