By: Abigail Christian, writer and editor for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA
The woman selling fresh veggies and fruit at the Farmer’s Market stand next to me didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak Hmong. In our fumbling attempts at conversation the first day we met, she offered me a bag of spinach and, grateful, I passed her a muffin from my stand. I was working at a bakery that summer and this became the first of many goodies passed back and forth every Wednesday morning as we sold our wares.
Some days she offered a bag of sugar snap peas, other days a pint of strawberries, which I’d sit and nibble on between sales. I offered her ginger cookies and berry scones.
I liked this exchange. I got good food and got to share my good food. When I arrived Wednesday mornings to set up my stand, I felt expected. When the wind blew too strong, we were each other’s hands, picking up signs and re-taping them to the tables. Occasionally we covered the other’s stands so we could run to the bathroom.
One day, I completely sold out everything by late morning. I packed up early and prepared to head out. My neighbor stuck her head around my van with her usual gift of sugar snap peas.
This time, I hesitated. I had nothing to offer in return, just the heel of my sample loaf and a few broken cookies.
In this moment, I realized how calculated my generosity towards her had become. I was conscious that we exchanged in equal value, that I always returned the favor. I was solving a math equation which—when all the variables were perfectly balanced— equaled generosity.
But my neighbor didn’t want anything in return. She simply appreciated my presence, the fact that we could shake our heads together when someone’s screaming toddler threw a temper tantrum in front of us or share a laugh when a dog almost succeeded in snatching a loaf of bread from an unsuspecting market-goer’s basket.
What I assumed had grown into a pleasant business partnership, she counted as friendship, despite only knowing each other’s names and a few words—thank you and hello—in the other’s language.
She had abundance and I did not. She had a gift, and I got to receive it.
This is hard lesson in particular for white, mainstream America to learn. We disdain receiving charity and handouts; we prefer to give them. If we’re given something, it must be repaid in some way, so we earn it. These are good manners. This is the way it’s done.
But that’s not how the gospel works. Jesus’ offer of new life lies in the fact that we have sold out for the day; we have nothing left to offer but an old heel and a few broken cookies. And still God gives.
When we show up to Jesus’ table, to the banquet prepared for us, are we good guests? Do we feel guilty for having nothing to bring or not bringing the right thing at the right cost? Or do we give up our pride and accept the gift of being invited?
Show your table! Share a meal with someone from a different culture, faith, or way of life — and then upload a photo from the meal. The pictures uploaded will be used in an art installation at Urbana 12!