The Cobbler and His Guest
by HW in HI
We come today to the end of that season after Pentecost, and the end of the church
year. We have come full circle. The church year begins with Advent, when we await the
coming of the Messiah, both the infant Jesus, and the return of Christ. We move through
the year to Christmastide and Epiphany, the seasons of Lent and Easter to Pentecost and
the long season following Pentecost. And today we come to an end: we celebrate Christ the
King. We celebrate Christ the King and we deck the altar with white. Because in the end,
the babe born to Mary, raised by a simple carpenter in middle east 2,000 years ago
in the end, he reigned. And he continues to reign.
The feast of Christ the King is not particularly old. It was established by Pope
Pius XI in 1925, and rapidly accepted by many Protestant churches.
The scripture chosen to commemorate Christ the King is Matthew 25: 31-46. Jesus
calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned and welcome
the stranger. It seems appropriate that at this time of Thanksgiving we find ourselves
called to remember our vows to Christ and the needs of the world. We find ourselves called
to give thanks for our gifts, and to share those gifts.
The Gospel message suggests: God will judge us according to our response to human
need. Some Christians ask people to stand up and make a decision for Christ. This is a
good thing to do, but it does not go far enough. Others ask us to praise the Lord; also a
good thing, but Jesus says it is not enough. Still others ask us to follow scripture
carefully and to obey the commandments; all well and good, but still, it is not enough.
Jesus tell us as directly and simply as he possibly could, that our final judgment is
going to be based on what help we have given to others. At the same time, we understand
that we are saved by grace, yet we cannot ignore the strength of Christs words.
This past week I had dinner with some friends. Try as I might, the preferred
topics for the evening seemed to be politics and religion. Our religious beliefs were
pretty much in line, I think, but our politics varied. How do we best address the need of
the poor? Should we help those who have not chosen to help themselves? Must we be taxed to
the hilt for programs that dont work? This is the distilled essence of our
discussion. At the center, we all want to do what was right. And to be sure, this is
partly addressed by society, and hence by politics.
This week a friend reminded me of the old saying, Give someone fish to eat
today and they will be hungry tomorrow. Teach someone to fish and they don't have to be
hungry tomorrow." Clearly when persons with resources feed, visit, cloth and offer
short-term hospitality to those without resources, we are only touching immediate needs...
which very quickly need more attention. We are not addressing the reasons why people might
be hungry, naked, sick or lonely.
Our call is to find ways to do both: to help meet those immediate needs of the
poor, while we seek means to address that poverty. We and the whole church are called to
seek answers to both: to offer the fish for today and the fishing pole for tomorrow. And
the fishing poles counts immensely.
This is Leo Tolstoys story of the cobbler and his guest.
There once lived in the city of Marseilles an old shoemaker, loved and honored by
his neighbors, who affectionately called him "Father Martin".
One Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in his little shop reading of the visit of the
Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, he said to himself. "If
tomorrow were the first Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night,
I know what I would give Him!" He rose from his stool and took from a shelf overhead
two tiny shoes of softest snow- white leather, with bright silver buckles. "I would
give Him those, my finest work." Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and
retired to rest. Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a voice call his
Intuitively he felt a presence. Then the voice spoke again: "Martin, you have
wished to see Me. Tomorrow I shall pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I
shall be your guest at your table."
Father Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before it was yet dawn he rose
and swept and tidied up his little shop. He spread fresh sand upon the floor, and wreathed
green boughs of fir along the rafters. On the spotless linen-covered table he placed a
loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, and a pitcher of milk, and over the fire he hung a
pot of tea. Then he took up his patient vigil at the window.
Presently he saw an old street-sweeper pass by, blowing upon his thin, gnarled
hands to warm them. "Poor fellow, he must be half frozen," thought Martin.
Opening the door he called out to him, "Come in, my friend, and warm, and drink a cup
of hot tea." And the man gratefully accepted the invitation.
An hour passed, and Martin saw a young, miserably clothed woman carrying a baby.
She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The heart of the old cobbler was
touched. Quickly he flung open the door.
"Come in and warm while you rest," he said to her. "You do not look
well," he remarked. "I am going to the hospital. I hope they will take me in,
and my baby boy," she explained. "My husband is at sea, and I am ill, without a
soul." "Poor child!" cried Father Martin. "You must eat something
while you are getting warm. No, Then let me give a cup of milk to the little one. Ah! What
a bright, pretty fellow he is! Why, you have put no shoes on him!" "I have no
shoes for him," sighed the mother sadly. "Then he shall have this lovely pair I
finished yesterday." And Father Martin took down from the shelf the soft little
snow-white shoes he had admired the evening before. He slipped them on the child's
feet...they fit perfectly. And shortly the poor young mother left, two shoes in her hand
and tearful with gratitude.
And Father Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by, and
although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his hospitality, the
expected Guest did not appear.
"It was only a dream," he sighed, with a heavy heart. "Perhaps I
did not believe, and so he has not come."
Suddenly, so it seemed to his weary eyes, the room was flooded with a strange
light. And to the cobbler's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the
poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child, and all the people whom he had aided
during the day. And each smiled at him and said. "Have you not seen me? Did I not sit
at your table?" Then they vanished. At last, out of the silence, Father Martin heard
again the gentle voice repeating the old familiar words. "Whosoever shall receive one
such in My name, receiveth Me...for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was athirst,
and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in...verily I say unto you,
inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me."