by Tom Kluger.
In November 2005 I, a new MH staff worker, was assigned to the Marian Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan. I was going there to serve Christ in the poor. I wasn’t there long when a Brother Christopher, one of the poor men, taught me in a humorous way one of the ways that Christ serves the poor and something else as well.
At Marian Centre we operate a soup kitchen five days a week from noon till 1:00 p.m. After lunch we clean up and have coffee with our volunteers.
It was around this time that Fred (not his real name) would often show up. Though we usually don’t serve lunch outside the regular time, we made an exception for Fred, who suffered from certain mental difficulties. Very gentle and withdrawn, he found crowds difficult.
One cold winter day, he rang the door bell—in the prairies you learn a whole new meaning to the phrase "wind chill factor"—and I let him in. All the volunteers had left and the other staff were busy, so I was by myself to serve him.
I was proud of the fact that I was now going to serve Christ in the poor very directly. Real proud, to be honest.
I should have known better, but I couldn’t help but think that such a nice work of serving one of God’s poor was earning me points in God’s good book. You know that book, the kind where when you’ve accumulated enough points, you are sure of going straight to Heaven when you die.
Part of me even thought that God would be impressed by what I was doing. Yes, I knew this sort of reasoning was theologically off, but still….
I asked Fred if he wanted stew. He did. So I put some in the microwave to re-heat it.
Fred knew that I came from Toronto, and he asked me if the Toronto mass transit system was still running streetcars. Public transit was an area of tremendous fascination for him.
I thought Toronto was, but was uncertain. Since I didn’t want to admit to him that I just did not know, I tried to hide my ignorance; it didn’t work. He picked it up, and he was obviously not impressed.
I was a little taken aback. I might have been serving him, but I wanted to feel like I was in charge, still good old number one. This situation was not going well.
The microwave beeped. I took Fred’s stew out and served it to him. He took one spoonful and looked horrified. I asked him what was wrong. Not being one for social niceties, he said, "You made it way too hot!" Uh, oh, another slip.
Eventually his stew cooled down and he ate most of it. I asked him if he wanted dessert. He did.
Here was a chance to recover from my little slips. I would now do a super deluxe job of serving the poor. I would not only give him a nice, big cinnamon bun, but I would warm it up for him.
I warmed it up all right; when it came out of the microwave, it was steaming hot.
Fred picked up the bun with his fork, held it in the air, and said, "You made it way too hot!" It was, in fact, so hot that it was almost soggy.
When it cooled down, it became worse. It was now as hard as a rock. Oops, I goofed again.
It was then that I began to dimly realize something. I was serving Fred, but Fred wasn’t the only poor man here. I, too, was poor.
And I, too, was being served. Fred, in fact, Christ in Fred, was serving me by teaching me this profound truth: I am poor.
Chastened, I sulked back to the kitchen and got Fred a slice of cake. At least cake doesn’t need to be heated.
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