It was raining so the meal was served indoors. Church Under the Bridge ministers to the homeless and marginally housed people of downtown Lexington. The people come, rain or shine, to attend church, to get a haircut, and primarily, to receive a meal. It’s crowded when the meal is served indoors – the space was not intended for this many people or even for serving food. On rainy days the food is placed in a small conference room and only a half-dozen people can be served at a time. They enter in small groups, one group entering as the previous group exits.

I noticed them as they entered the room, two women close in age who looked alike – doubtless they were sisters. They were dressed plainly in clean but worn jeans and simple cotton shirts with thin jackets offering slight protection from the chill rain falling outside. Their faces were scrubbed and without makeup; their hair washed, brushed and combed but not styled. The faces showed fatigue with a hint of fear and uncertainty in their eyes. They joined the serving line and received plastic cutlery and napkins into timid hands. They stayed close together as though neither had sufficient strength to walk alone. As the line moved they came before the serving dishes heaped with food. They watched with concentration and their eyes never wavered from the plates being filled by the volunteers. They moved slowly, silently along the line and the fear eased from their eyes. At the end of the line they accepted the plates with mumbled thanks. Their eyes didn’t go to the faces of the volunteers or to the bright paintings on the walls but remained on the plates. As they moved to exit the room they came close by me and I saw their faces clearly. Soft faces and gentle eyes moist with tears. They gazed at the plates of simple fare – a hamburger, a hot dog, chips and baked beans, their meals for the day.

Society had a place for them and they knew the place well. They were relegated to the lowest rung of the social ladder, of no use to those of higher estate. This was not their choice, and their poverty was probably not their fault. They found themselves in this place of humility and acceptance was clear in their demeanor. Rightly or wrongly, they were where they were. They were the last ones in which society would find value.

I saw their faces and read all this. But one thing more was written. As they walked by I was confronted with gratitude such as I have never before witnessed. They looked at the sandwiches as at broiled steaks or steamed lobster. It was their meal for the day and it was accepted with deep thanks. Their moist eyes, their soft and gentle faces, spoke of a longing joyously fulfilled.

I had felt many emotions as I watched their progression through the room. Now as I viewed their faces I felt a new emotion. It wasn’t pity or sympathy or compassion – these had come earlier. What I felt was envy, for I have never been as thankful as these two women. I have received many fine gifts but I’ve never felt such gratitude. I wish that I could be so joyous for God’s gifts, and that I could express true, deep gratitude for simple gifts, for basic pleasures. I don’t want to be as poor as these women; I don’t want to be unemployed or homeless, I don’t want to be treated as society treats them. But I wish I had the richness of gratitude and the heartfelt thankfulness which I witnessed that day. I think that gratitude such as this makes the last become the first in the Kingdom of God.

copyright 2009 by the author