I had just finished grocery shopping in Rockwood, not far from my home. As I finished loading the bags into the trunk of my car, I noticed her eyeing me. I began to open my driver’s side door when she approached me, two red flowers with no visible stems in her hands. Her lips trembling, she said, “Could I sell you these flowers for some food?”
I took a moment to discern the situation. She was elderly, likely in her mid to late seventies. She wore simple cloth in muted solid brown and green colors. “There is a deli inside. Would you like me to get you something there?”
She nodded no. “I really want some pork. And some potatoes. They will last so much longer.”
A passerby heard the exchange and gave the woman a fresh salad from her grocery bag.
We went inside. She made a beeline for the vegetables. A tomato first. Not a vegetable, true. But still her priority. Then an avocado. “Does this feel right?” she asked.
“I have no idea. I’ve never had an avocado in my life.” Silently, I wondered how my fresh hamburger was faring in the trunk of my car.
After selecting a bag of potatoes, she then led me to the pork section. After a long period of searching, she selected two beautiful packages of pork. Two for one. A great deal, actually.
But by then I knew I had reached my financial and time limit. It was time to go to the check stand. I was kind, but firm. She wanted more, but I knew I had to set boundaries. I felt like a jerk.
Maybe I was a jerk. Not outwardly, but internally due to my growing impatience with her persistence.
“Oh, can I get some bread?”
And not just any bread. I had to be hot. And French.
I relented, hoping that would satisfy her and free me to get home so I could eat dinner and then get to the church for a night of ministry with the youth group. As I paid the bill at the register, that thought crossed my mind.
And I saw her eating the bread. The warm, delicious French bread. Pure joy on her face.
My heart sank. At my self-righteous, knight-in-shining-armor attitude. My poverty of spiritual depth and human empathy. For while it was empathy which prompted me to help her, and to do so joyfully, it was the lack of same which caused me to grow impatient.
As if ministry were to happen later that night at the church. Rather than right there in the store where she held out the bread with her unwashed hands, offering it to me to partake.
I admit that I did not partake, justifying my denial with the notion that she needed it more than me. And I missed the opportunity to break bread with her with all that it implies biblically. Because I was concerned about consuming food she had handled with unwashed hands.
As we prepared to part, I asked her if she is a follower of Jesus. She said she is. I wished her God’s blessings. She thanked me and walked off in joy with her food which would last her likely a week.
I drove away, remembering the persistent woman with the issue of blood who pressed through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. The elderly woman demonstrated a persistence which calls to mind the biblical narrative.
And I wept.
For my spiritual poverty which far outweighs her material poverty.