Last night was my turn in the food bank, along with Tara. It turned out to be a lovely summer evening, with a steady stream of homeless, mothers and sons, itinerant bike-riders, coming for their paper bags full of canned chili and corn flakes and macaroni and cheese. It was the sort of night that gave us time to chat. Sometimes, it’s so busy, you fill a bag and give a bag and fill another bag. Not last night. It was pleasant. We were comrades—bag-fillers and bag-takers alike—in the fight against poverty.
On the counter of our little pantry, which is no bigger than our kitchen closet at home, there were about seven or eight sparkly gold-painted pebbles. “Odd,” I thought. I hadn’t seen them before and didn’t know where they’d come from. I pushed them aside because they kept getting in the way of the bags I was filling.
As we tidied up at the end of the evening, recycling cardboard, restocking corn and canned peaches, Tara quipped, “Oh. Did you see these?” I had—and wondered. She told me a young boy had given them to her. (I knew the boy. I had asked him to hand out granola bars while people waited for the doors to open. He was too shy, so an older man gave them out.)
This young boy, a ten year old, I’d say, was named Lance. While standing in line to receive a bag, Lance reached into his pocket and pulled out seven or eight gold-painted pebbles. While his hand was still in his pocket, Lance said, “I have something that will help people.” He handed them to Tara with the clear instructions to “make sure that you give them to people who are poor, to help them. They’re gold.” Then, she said, Lance handed one to her, “I want you to keep one. Give the rest away.” So there they sat, on the counter, treasure hidden in our cramped little Bethany Community Church food pantry.
Gold for the poor.
“Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, ‘The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.’”*
The little boy at the food bank, waiting with men four, five, six times his age, was too shy to hand out the granola bars. That little boy will probably never be the best soccer player in his school, not without playing on select teams and owning top notch gear. That boy will probably not attend an Ivy League college, not without expensive courses in how to succeed on the SAT exams. That boy will probably not become a concert violinist, not without years of private lessons.
But that shy boy has, at least for now, at least last night, something that many soccer stars and Cambridge grads and concert masters may never know: unabashed generosity. “I have something that will help people. Make sure that you give them to people who are poor, to help them.”
“All the others gave what they’ll never miss; he gave extravagantly what he couldn’t afford—he gave his all.”
*Mark 12:41-44, The Message