The first reading today often focused on the miraculous: “For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” – and that is miraculous, the work of God. Sometimes the miraculous plays out before our eyes.
My friend, Fr. Joe, was the pastor of a mission parish in Coroico, Bolivia located amidst the geographical transition between La Paz on the altiplano and the Amazonian rain forest – his parish mission encompassed both. Two of his friends from Boston came to visit him and at the end he was escorting them back to La Paz. Along the way they stopped at a village on the road to La Paz in order to take lunch in a small road-side cantina. On the way in, the visitors made eye contact with an older woman sitting near the doorway to the cantina. She was old in a way that only the years, deprivation, a hard life, and life’s burdens can burden a soul. She could have been 85, she could have been 45. Such is the toll destitution takes on a person. She asked for nothing, but simply smiled in her own near toothless way, nodding her head. At the beginning of the meal the couple from Boston asked the cantina owner if the woman was a local and were told that yes, she was and she was as poor as they come. The couple ordered a meal and asked the proprietor to give it to the woman with their blessings.
When the meal was delivered, the woman waved her thanks from the doorway, never presuming to enter the cantina, and sat down again in the dust of the altiplano to begin her meal. She bowed her head and seemed to give thanks to God. Within a few minutes another older woman could be seen standing at the doorway speaking with the one seated on the ground. There were words in the local dialect, an ancient finger pointed to the couple inside, and seemingly knowing glances were exchanged between the two local women. Inside the cantina the couple thought to themselves… “Oh we have done it now. Probably half the village will come around asking for a handout. Let’s quickly finish and be on our way before this gets out of hand.”
Outside the cantina, the newly arrived woman sat in the altiplano dust. The first woman had found a discarded piece of cardboard, dusted it off, and had moved half of her meal onto the cardboard for her friend to have. The second woman then nodded her toothless thanks to the two Bostonians and then gave her thanks in prayer to God for the blessings of the day.
This couple – a couple that was active in their parish, active in Boston area outreach programs – for the first time they truly saw the poor and began to understand the meaning of being truly blessed. They saw the kingdom of God appear in the relationship played out between two Bolivian women. They saw a living parable. “The kingdom of God is like two poor women in the dust of the Andean altiplano who share a meal…” The women had received kindness from two Bostonian strangers but rightly gave thanks to God upon whom they depended.
For the couple from Boston, they could not remember if they had even given thanks to God for their meal. They did remember their words: “Give this to the woman with our blessings.”