When Did I See You?
Matthew 25: 31 – 40
My daddy owned a wholesale grocery store in the 1950s and ’60s. He had a three-story warehouse, a couple of trucks, and a handful of employees who stocked the shelves and loaded the trucks. Their names have mostly been forgotten, except for a few who used to work at our house in their “off” time, doing yard work and odd jobs for our household.
Mostly I remember Tang and Thurber. Both men were African-American. Tang had a rich deep laugh and loved riding in the back of my brother’s ’56 Chevy convertible as they did errands for Mother and for the store. Thurber had a daughter he would bring to the house with him on the days when he mowed the grass. Her name was Ada.
Thurber and Ada would arrive early in the morning to get the work done before the heat of the day settled in. I would rush out to play with Ada in a playhouse Daddy had built for my sister and me. We had tea parties and played school with the sound of the lawnmower and our laughter filling the air.
Mid-day heat in Pitt County can wear a body down, especially when you are doing manual labor. While Ada and I had pretend tea, her daddy went to the back door of my house to ask Mother for a drink of water. I saw what happened next.
My mother went to the pantry, got a used Mason jar that she used in her canning, filled it with water from the kitchen sink and handed it out the back door to Thurber. I can still see her doing that; it still makes me cry.
High tea in the playhouse and room temperature tap water in a canning jar marked my memory of an injustice that I could not even understand at that time. How could my own mother treat the father of my friend with such disregard and thoughtlessness? Why was Thurber not treated to fine crystal and ice for all he was doing for us and for what he meant to my family?
Scenes like this were likely played out all over Pitt County and the entire South during my growing up years. I think I always knew this inequality was wrong. The view from my playhouse taught me and shaped me. Everything after this day added to my deep sense of caring for all God’s people, and a deep hope that someday justice will roll down like waters.
As I read Jesus’ words in Matthew, “for I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” I think of Thurber, likely dead and gone now. I pray he is swimming in the river of life that is beyond this life; sipping from a golden chalice all the goodness that is God’s to give. And I pray he has forgiven this wrong.