Ruth went to her mail box, and there was only one letter. She picked it up and looked at it before opening it, but then she looked at the letter again. There was no stamp, no postmark, only her name and address. She read the letter:
I’m going to be in your neighborhood Saturday afternoon, and I’d like to stop by for a visit.
Love Always, Jesus
Her hands were shaking as she placed the letter on the table. “Why would the Lord want to visit me? I’m nobody special. I don’t have anything to offer.”
With that thought, Ruth remembered her empty kitchen cabinets. “Oh my goodness, I really don’t have anything to offer. I’ll have to run down to the store and buy something for dinner.” She reached for her purse and counted out its contents. Five dollars and forty cents. “Well! I can get some bread and cold cuts, at least.”
She threw on her coat and hurried out the door. A loaf of French bread, a half-pound of sliced turkey, and a carton of milk…leaving Ruth with grand total twelve cents to last her until Monday. Nonetheless, she felt good as she headed home, her meager offerings tucked under her arm.
“Hey lady, can you help us, lady?”
Ruth had been so absorbed in her dinner plans, she hadn’t even noticed two figures huddled in the alleyway. A man and a woman, both of them dressed in little more than rags.
“Look lady, I ain’t got a job, ya know, and my wife and I have been living out here on the street, and, well, now it’s getting cold, and we’re getting kinda hungry and, well, if you could help us, lady, we’d really appreciate it.”
Ruth looked at them both. They were dirty, they smelled bad, and frankly, she was certain that they could get some kind of work if they really wanted to.
“Sir, I’d like to help you, but I’m a poor woman myself. All I have is a few cold cuts and some bread, and I’m having an important guest for dinner tonight, and I was planning on serving that to Him.”
“Yeah, well, okay lady, I understand. Thanks anyway.” The man put his arm around the woman’s shoulders, turned, and headed back into the alley.
As she watched them leave, Ruth felt a familiar twinge in her heart. “Sir, wait!” The couple stopped and turned as she ran down the alley after them. “Look, why don’t you take this food. I’ll figure out something else to serve my guest.”
She handed the man her grocery bag. “Thank you lady. Thank you very much!”
“Yes, thank you!” It was the man’s wife, and Ruth could see now that she was shivering. “You know, I’ve got another coat at home. Here, why don’t you take this one.” Ruth unbuttoned her jacket and slipped it over the woman’s shoulders.
Ruth was chilled by the time she reached her front door and worried too. The Lord was coming to visit, and she didn’t have anything to offer Him. She fumbled through her purse for the door key. But as she did, she noticed another envelope in her mailbox.
“That’s odd. The mailman doesn’t usually come twice in one day.” She took the envelope out of the box and opened it.
It was so good to see you again. Thank you for the lovely meal. And thank you, too, for the beautiful coat.
Love Always, Jesus
The air was still cold, but even without her coat, Ruth no longer noticed.
Matthew 25:31-35 God’s command to practice personal charity
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
I want to call particular attention to a theme that runs through both the story and Jesus’ teaching. That theme is PERSONAL charity. This call is also present in Catholic teaching.
Excerpt from Section 27 of the Catholic Church’s teaching “Gaudium et Spes”
Promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965
In practical terms, the Church stresses that everyone consider his every neighbor without exception as another self and recognize the special obligation we each have to actively help our neighbor when he comes across our path. “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40).
I’ve got two quick thoughts on this. One, we are not called by God or Jesus or the Bible to redistribute wealth via punitive taxation, but to give person-to-person to those WHO CROSS OUR PATHS.
And two, we are called by GOD. Not every open hand or guilt tripping charity mailing is a call from the Almighty. It’s in the story: “Ruth felt a familiar twinge in her heart.” This is one of those places where living in prayer is so important. It keeps you open to God’s tweaking of your heart strings not just in the quiet of your prayer time, but also in the midst of a worrisome day.
A priest once taught us that God calls us to give of our overflow, not of our substance. The line from his homily that stuck in my mind was, “Don’t throw peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at your family while you rush out the door with a steaming hot chicken dinner for your neighbor.”
I’ve used this concept so often to make hard decisions. Just one example. Attending Mass is a Catholic obligation that I took very seriously. But it got to the point where even going to the least attended (least perfume etc.) service of the week and hiding out in the cry room with my air filter was taking such a physical toll that I was spending Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in bed. I prayed about this and saw very clearly that my family needed me on my feet much more than God needed me in that pew. In other words, it was a peanut butter and jelly vs. hot chicken dinner situation, so I stopped going to Mass.