On Thanksgiving Day, I found myself roaming aimlessly around Washington, D.C. My delinquent sense of direction had sent me through random metro terminals, confusing alleyways and around seemingly dead-end corners. My path came to a halt as I turned a corner and discovered myself right in the middle of an inner city park, surrounded by homeless people. They seemed to crowd around a gargantuan conversion van, funneling out from a family standing at its open doors.
This was Thanksgiving Day and the vast majority of Americans were nestled in their warm houses watching parades and football, over-eating and relaxing – but not this family. This Maryland couple and their daughter had started a tradition three years ago. Every Thanksgiving they delayed their own festivities, prepared extra turkeys and offered food to the homeless of inner city DC. I casually approached them just as they were giving out the last of the food, and getting in their van to leave. They kindly offered me a ride to my next destination.
Having accepted their invitation, I climbed into their van, and we began to talk. I knew this family was Christian by their admirable generosity and selflessness. I mean, it was Thanksgiving! They had just served dinner to over 30 homeless people and now they were going out of their way to help me find myself in the confusion of DC.
They inquired as to who I was and what I did. I shared with them that I was a young campus pastor at an amazing Christian university. Without losing their un-shakable cordiality they shared with me that they were non-religious, liberal democrats, and half-jokingly the mom said, “Well, I guess we better not ruin the day by talking politics.”
This moment hit me like a ton of bricks. There they were looking “Christ-like,” when they didn’t even know Him. They were handing out “bread” and “water,” and I couldn’t help but wonder where were those who knew of the “bread of life” and “living water?” I was quickly reminded of an intimate encounter with Christ in Luke 22.
The disciples had just participated in their infamous discussion as to which of them was the greatest. What a moment that was. They had just shared in the Lord’s Supper with the Savior of the world, who in just a few hours would be captured and crucified, and they were self-consumed. They were there with Jesus, who has at his disposal all the resources, creativity, magnificence, divinity and power of Heaven, yet they were wondering which of them was great.
Then Jesus barges into their self-absorbed party with a simple question, “Who is greater— the person sitting at the table or the person serving them?” Simple question even for today, right? When you eat out who pays the bill? Who is the customer? Who is more important? Leading them on, Jesus continues, “Is it not the one sitting at the table?”
The disciples responded affirmatively, likely offering themselves inner self-congratulations. Jesus, in what must have been a hammer-blow to the soul, concluded the conversation, quieting the room and their hearts, ceasing the questions of greatness. “I am among you as the one who serves.”
No doubt, Christ often sits at our own tables and observes the same self-centeredness, self-interest and questions of greatness, and wonders if we even realize He’s there. The tragedy is that our self-consumption, often un-identified and un-checked, manifests itself not only in grandiose self-exultation and gaudy lifestyles, but often it reveals itself most clearly in what we don’t do. St. Augustine was profoundly correct when he proclaimed, “We will either love God to the neglect of self, or love self to the neglect of God.”
Thanksgiving traditions, watching football and family celebrations aren’t wrong. The moral to this moment involves where our attention and our affections lie. Often we are so busy looking at ourselves (and each other) and so consumed with our own cute interiors that we don’t even notice Jesus, let alone where He’s looking. Jesus, whether sitting at a first century table or our 21
century tables, is calling for a paradigm shift. Where we transplant our values to His values, moving our eyes from our direction to the direction He’s looking. The Maryland couple didn’t get it either, but they appeared as though they did. The misfortune is that even as Christ-followers we often appear even less like we get it. It’s time we begin to crawl out of our selves, notice what He’s looking at, and run in that direction.