Here we are again this week listening to a puzzling Gospel story, so why not ignore it, especially on this annual Sunday when people of all faiths and of no faith join in a walk to raise money to feed the hungry,
with each walker given the option to channel the donation through an agency of his or her choice,
and we, in our prayers, raise pleas for the hungry and homeless who are victims of a hurricane and of wars and of ongoing violence?
Jesus told other stories that would be perfect for today, why not substitute one of them?
Why not, because we need to listen and keep on listening until we are caught up in the drama between a desperate widow who in Jesus’ time had no food stamps, no community food pantry, no family, nothing; and an uncaring, heartless judge who remained unmoved by her plight but finally gave it to get rid of her.
The stage is set for what follows: Jesus contrasts the judge to God, THE Judge of all judges to whom all humans pour out their plight in prayer, and strikes the contrast with the words:
“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?
Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.
Unlike that judge who had no ear, no heart for justice seasoned with compassion, God – as the Psalmist sang – (Psalm 145: 8, 16) …is gracious and merciful,...You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.”
Our prayers are meant to connect us with that God Who often acts to satisfy the hungry through those who have, sharing with those who have not; those who have money to turn into food, and shelter and clothing becoming the answered prayer of those who are like the desperate widow in the Gospel drama, which ties praying to eating.
The sermon’s title is intentional: “Teaching children how to eat.” – “Eat” not “pray,” as eating becomes a practice of praying through which children learn two lessons.
First one being how gratitude is learned, as a child is taught to pray a table grace.
Does one come to mind from your early childhood?
“God is great and God is good,
And we thank him for our food;
By his hand we all are fed,
Thank you, God, for daily bread. Amen.”
A prayer that plants the thought of the poet’s lines:
Back of the loaf is the snowy flour
And back of the flour is the mill;
And back of the mill is the wheat
And the shower and the sun
And the Father's will. Maltbie D. Babcock
There is an old painting that accompanies this prayer, maybe past generations of your family had one, maybe you have one: (Wikipedia) It shows a peasant couple with heads bowed in prayer over a basket of potatoes as the church bell marks the end of their work day. Thomas Gold Appleton commissioned Jean Francois-Millet to do the work but never came to claim it. Today the fame of the painting sends artwork from that time to record amounts.
Jesus’ last line in the Gospel story:“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” turns prayerful eating into learning gratitude, thus an imperative to practice beginning in our homes, in our families.
Second, “Teaching children how to eat” becomes a practice of praying, through which compassion is learned as a child prays.56
In one family it is the mealtime practice for each person at the table, from the oldest to the youngest, to take a turn at praying a prayer before eating. When it was the four-year old's turn, he started with saying the letter “A,” then “B” and each letter on to Z.” His Mother questioned why he recited the alphabet, it’s just letters, not a prayer. The boy said, “When I heard all the places in the world where people are hungry, I wanted to pray for them, but there were too many names for me to remember. So I just said the letters, because God knows how to put them all together.” (Adapted from Stephen M. Crotts)
In another home it was the practice for the whole family to pray together: “Be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored.” It was that word “everywhere” that had a teenager see places where people are starving and then give a sermon in which he invited others to join him in turning prayers into tangible gifts of money.
Later, after college he went on to work in Peru for Church World Service through which our CROP Walk gifts reach those in need. From praying to practicing compassion.
Jesus’ last line in the Gospel story: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” turns prayerful eating into learning compassion, thus an imperative to practice beginning in our homes, in our families.
Each week I search for a photo to put above the title that is printed on a handout of Sunday’s sermon. This week’s one says it all. It is a photo of a chubby infant sitting in a highchair with finger food on the tray. The priceless scene shows the baby with eyes closed, arms outstretched and each hand is held by an adult on either side.
A child learning how to practice prayerful eating and eating prayerfully.
As I fix my gaze on that photo, I hear the echo of something else Jesus said, (Matthew 18:3)
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
A little child learning how to eat as eating becomes a practice of praying.