Breakfast With Jesus

 There are many variations on the story of stone soup, but they all involve a traveler coming into a town beset by famine. The inhabitants try to discourage the traveler from staying, fearing he wants them to give him food. They tell him they have no food. The traveler explains that he does not need food, and that, in fact, he was planning to make a soup to share with all of them. The villagers watch suspiciously as he builds a fire and fills a cauldron with water. With great ceremony, he pulls a stone from a bag, dropping the stone into the pot of water. He sniffs the brew extravagantly and exclaims how delicious stone soup is. As the villagers begin to show interest, he mentions how good the soup would be with just a little cabbage in it. A villager brings out a cabbage to share. This episode repeats itself until the soup has cabbage, carrots, onions, and everything needed to feed the village a substantial meal. 

This story addresses our tendency to hoard our resources: when we perceive that we are in hard times, we retreat into a stance of non-sharing and use our energy to focus only on ourselves. We isolate ourselves and shut out others. As the story of stone soup reveals, in doing so, we often deprive ourselves and everyone else of a feast. This metaphor plays out beyond the realm of food. We hoard ideas, love, and energy, thinking we will be richer if we keep to them to ourselves, when in truth we make the world, and ourselves, poorer whenever we stockpile our reserves. The traveler–a clear representation of Jesus–was able to see that the villagers were holding back, and he had the genius to draw them out and inspire them to give, thus creating a feast of abundance that none of them could have created alone. 

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.

Hoping you recognize Jesus when he comes to you this week.

Fr. Michel

About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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