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the sound of two small coins

Schwartz's deli on Monday night
I have a love/hate relationship with hospitality. In theory, I love opening my home and my table to friends and strangers, and in the process of preparation, whether that be cleaning bathrooms and floors, converting my office into a guest bedroom, or buying and preparing food, I am mindful to prepare my heart as well, to create a space where people are welcome. I do this because I realise that I am a constant recipient of God's gracious hospitality, that I have been warmly embraced by a heavenly Father, and that there is a seat at the feast of Jesus always available to me. And yet, because I am a person of limited resources and social energy, my hospitality, when stretched to its limits, begins to look more like resentful hostility. I hate it when that happens.

We came back from a wonderful, whirlwind tour of Europe last week. The people who had been staying in our condo while we were gone remained with us for another week after we returned home. A day after they left, another set of house guests arrived for a 24-hour stay. In between the two visits, I spent a whole day doing umpteen loads of laundry and giving my house a thorough cleaning. It was exhausting. I struggled to keep a positive attitude, to resist complaining and whining about the enormous amount of energy back to back visitors required. To be clear, both sets of houseguests were wonderful, kind, generous people who were very respectful of our home, but we do not live in a big place. Dean and I sleep in a loft which has no door and is open to the living space below. We have only one shower which everyone must share. Every time we have guests, I move part of my office upstairs to our bedroom. It is less than ideal.

The morning the second set of houseguests were to arrive, I sat at my dining room table and offered the day and all its challenges to God. I wanted to be hospitable, but felt woefully inadequate. Our home is small and my heart was a bit small as well, weary from travel and weeks of demanding social situations. How could I be gracious and generous when I had so little to draw on? Help me, God, I prayed. I immediately thought of the story of the widow's offering. Jesus was at the temple in Jerusalem with his disciples. "He turned His attention from the religious scholars to some wealthy people who were depositing their donations in the offering boxes. A widow, obviously poor, came up and dropped two copper coins in one of the boxes. Jesus said, 'I’m telling you the truth, this poor widow has made a bigger contribution than all of those rich fellows. They’re just giving from their surplus, but she is giving from her poverty—she’s giving all she has to give.'" (Luke 21, The Voice)

The widow, disadvantaged by having no husband to support her, gave two small lepta, the least valuable coin in circulation at the time. Her entire offering constituted only a fraction of a Roman penny. And yet, Jesus' praise for her was high because she gave all she had to give. She gave that which cost her much. That morning, I could identify with the widow in the story, and as I cleaned and scrubbed and made beds and tidied, tired and sweaty, I repeated the prayer, "I don't have much today, Jesus, but I give it to you. I give out of my poverty of hospitality."

The houseguests, whom we had never met before, arrived later that evening. They were relatives of an acquaintance from the UK and had chosen Montreal as the starting point for a cycling trip down to Pennsylvania. They had their own challenges to deal with because their plane was delayed, one of their bags didn't make it, and one of the bikes had been damaged in transit. We deposited them in the guest room, chatted a bit, and then headed downtown for a late dinner. 

The barbeque place Dean wanted to try was closed, so we ended up at Schwartz's deli, a Montreal landmark. The place is noted for its aging decor, rather abrupt serving staff, crowded tables, and classic smoked meat sandwiches. We found an empty table near the back and placed our orders. Halfway into our meal, we were joined by a young couple (everyone sits family style at long tables). We acknowledged them and continued with our conversation. The guests asked about my doctoral dissertation. I always feel inadequate trying to distill my thoughts on dramatic theology into a minute or two of light conversation, so I fumbled a bit trying to find the right words. I talked about God not writing a set script for us to follow, but inviting us to create a story together with him, much like improv where what everyone brings to the story matters. In essence, God says, Yes, I will be affected by you because this is the type of relationship I desire. God does not give us a set of rules to follow, a guidebook (the Bible) which details how to do things right, but a living story into which he invites us.

The man who had been sitting next to us eating a plate of meat, interrupted our conversation and said to our guests, "Listen to her. What she says is important. I did not mean to listen in, but she speaks words of life. I know because this is how my mother talked. These are pure words. We need more of this in our world. God bless you." I don't remember every word that man said to us, but I remember turning my face to him, stilling my mind, and listening as closely as I could, because in that moment, in a crowded deli late at night in Montreal, a Middle Eastern man eating a meal with his pregnant wife was speaking the words of God to me.

Many days I feel small, insignificant, weak, under-resourced, inefficient, and powerless. I am the widow with only a few small coins to my name. I can be prone to clutching them tightly in my fist, unwilling to share. I can complain about my lack, feeling the injustice of it when I see others with more. Sometimes I suffer the ache of life's disappointments silently, letting sadness rest in my soul. But, thank God, there are also times when I take those pitiful coins and toss them freely into the treasury of God, offering them to the Creator who can make something out of nothing. In the economy of the kingdom of heaven, two small coins clang louder than the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and make more noise than a lavish display of fireworks. That night, over smoked meat, french fries, and black cherry sodas, I was given a gift that weighed much more than a thousand bars of gold. When the man had finished speaking, I bowed my head to him and uttered a simple, "Thank you. God bless you." In that moment, I was a very rich girl.

Comments

Shelley said…
my goodness you made me cry. I have the same relationship with hospitality.

Glad I took the time to read this today. <3
Matte Downey said…
Thanks for your encouragement, Shelley. :-)

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