Today, my first morning here in Madison, I encountered a nameless man who is the host at the hotel where I am staying. He manages the enormous breakfast buffet, and greets everyone with the same smile and chatter, making everyone feel welcome. As Gayle and I were sipping our coffee, barely awake, this man came over to speak with us. In his most upbeat and cheerful manner, he told us that his philosophy of life includes the idea that there is no point coming to work down or sad because there will always be someone else who is truly struggling. He related the story of an elderly man and his wife, guests here at the hotel, who were seated every morning one week in the same corner of the room. Every day this man tried to engage the elderly man in conversation, without success. The elderly man wouldn’t engage or even look at him.
At the end of the week, their last day here in Madison, the elderly man approached our host and said to him, “I apologize for not speaking to you this whole week. You see, I just lost my brother and I have been so overwhelmed with sorrow that I just couldn’t greet you or be part of your cheerfulness. Thank you for not judging me and for continuing to speak to me.” Our host teared up as he told us this next part. The elderly man continued, “This week I lost a brother and my heart was broken, but this is also the week I met my new brother who was cheerful to me and didn’t judge or dismiss me. Thank you, brother!” And the two strangers embraced tearfully in the middle of the restaurant.
And so it is that, on the first day of my trip home–always an emotional experience anyway–Jesus appeared to me in the guise of a cheerful black man whose only goal was to make me feel welcome, and to remind me that the smallest acts can change the world.
So, let’s not be like those villagers in the tale who are holding back, focused only on ourselves. As we share the Christ within, we feed and nourish the Body of Christ all over the world. This is indeed a foretaste of the banquet of love that we celebrate in Eucharist and also as we sip our coffee in a hotel restaurant.