Once upon a time, “there was a cobbler who lived alone in his shop with one window that looked out on the street. His wife and children had all died and he asked God, “Holy One why have you so long delayed your coming? I have almost given up hope in seeing you. Please come to my humble shop this day and show me your face.”
Outside on the street the cold winter brought snow. Through his window he saw a beggar who shivered in the cold. The cobbler invited the beggar into the shop to warm him and offer a meager meal from his shrinking larder. The beggar thanked him and left.
As the day passed, a few customers came with repairs they needed for their shoes and harnesses. A young boy sought shelter from the cold and snow. The child’s feet were wrapped in old dirty rags and stuffed with paper. Into the shop he invited the boy. After making him some warm milk and a sandwich from the little food he had he went to his closet and found a pair of shoes that [had] belonged to his son. He fit the shoes to the boy. Grateful, the boy left with a promise to return to visit him.
It was approaching dusk and the cobbler despaired of a visit from the Lord. A woman with her young babe appeared in front of the window. She was dressed in a thin piece of cloth and she looked as if she might freeze to death. The cobbler invited her into his shop. Wary of the old man, she hesitated at the door, but feeling the warmth within she stepped across the threshold. The cobbler made her some tea and went to his closet to find a heavy woolen cloak that [had] belonged to his wife. Giving her the cloak the woman thanked him and after he shared the rest of his larder with her, she left with the child.
The sun descended and left the cobbler bereft. “Why didn’t you come and visit me today,” the cobbler asked? There was a voice that spoke to him in his humble shop: “But I did come to you. When you invited in the beggar, the boy, and the mother and her child, I was there with you. In each of their faces you looked into my eyes.”[i]
I don’t know about you, but the last eight months have been exhausting. Every week I look at the lessons and newspaper and hope for some good news – some glimpse of the face of Jesus. But every week, the news somehow seems worse. This week has been no different, with suffering hitting us at both the macro and micro levels. Our country is in an existential crisis about the Presidential election. Although many commentators seem to think things will work out, at question is the very foundation of democracy – elections where the votes of the people matter and where the peaceful, respectful exchange of power can happen. We have managed to successfully do this for over two hundred years, and somehow, this year we cannot seem to hold to our founding principles. Meanwhile, on the micro level, we are approaching a national holiday of Thanksgiving – a holiday characterized by the gathering of peoples around a table, not unlike our own Eucharistic feast. And yet, flights are being cancelled, car keys are being put down, and painful calls of cancellation are being made. Once again, this pandemic is crushing our rituals, forcing us to stay apart from one another.
So, when I picked up the Biblical texts for today, remembering this is Christ the King Sunday, I could not have been more relieved. I am ready for the shepherd of Ezekiel who seeks out the lost, binds up the wounded, and feeds us on the good pasture – all while destroying the fat sheep and feeding them justice! I am ready for the Psalmist’s invitation to bow down before the Lord our Maker – the king above all gods, the one in whose hands are the caverns of the earth, the heights of the hills, the sea, and the dry lands! I want to hear the beauty of the song, King of Glory, King of Peace. I want a god who will take all of this away – the strife, fighting, suffering, weariness, and make everything better. I want to see Christ the King!
But nothing is ever easy with Jesus. When we call out for Jesus, Jesus tells us in the gospel today that he is already here – here with us when we feed the hungry, sate the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. To our wearied selves, who just want a victorious king to fix things, our king reminds us today that relief is not found in power grabs and punishments. As the founder of The Catholic Worker, Peter Maurin, once explained, the social policy Jesus gives us for the renewal of the world is works of mercy.[ii]
Our lives right now are upended. Even doing the literal work of the cobbler from that story may not seem possible in these times of social distancing. But the good news we hear today is peace will not come from powerful, political overpowering. Peace and relief in these times will come from loving the vulnerable, tending the weak, serving those suffering more deeply than we can imagine. Like the cobbler in his grief, we may not be able to see those in need in this pandemic. But they are there, with us, every day. And it is there, we will see the face of Jesus. There, God will soothe our pain. There, the Holy Spirit will mend our weariness. There is our peace. Thanks be to God.
[i] Leo Tolstoy, “Martin the Cobbler,” as retold by Bob Stuhlmann in “Goat Cheese And Starfish: For November 23, 2014,” posted on November 18, 2014, as found at http://storiesfromapriestlylife.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/goat-cheese-and-starfish-for-november-232014/ on November 20, 2020.
[ii] Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 212.