Maggie works in the deli. All day, every day, she slices meats and cheeses and weighs out portions of salads. But meats and salads aren’t the only thing she gives to her customers. She gives them dignity. She cares about what’s important to them. Is the meat the right thickness? Do they want the potato salad with mustard or without? As her experienced hands deftly transfer stacks of shaved ham into neat little plastic bags she smiles and chats. If she knows the man or woman she’s waiting on, she may ask about family or jobs. If she doesn’t know them, she’ll cheerfully ask about the weather or the condition of the parking lot (if it’s snowy or icy she always manages to get it treated). No one is rushed away but, somehow, no one is kept waiting, either.
Isaiah’s experience of God is that of a child in its mother’s womb. Isaiah is reminded by God that he is loved and cared for. Now he is to go out and spread the good news. God wants everyone — all the nations — to know that they are loved. And so Isaiah is sent. “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God and he testified to that. He knew that Jesus was God’s Son and he treated him with great deference, because that’s how one treats God’s child. Maybe that’s why Maggie is so popular with her customers. Maggie knows herself and each one of her customers to be a child of God, and she treats them that way. No one is insignificant in her eyes. But not everyone looks at Maggie that way. Some see her only as a middle-aged housewife who can’t find any better job than working in a deli.
Paul reminds us that we are called to be holy, but what does that mean? Perhaps it means that we are called to be more like Maggie …
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.