Ruth kept looking at the envelope that had just arrived in a most unusual way. She was having her morning coffee at the kitchen table. Her husband had gone to work and the children were at school. She had the day off from her job, so she would be home alone for a few hours. She reached for her coffee cup to take another sip, and there was the envelope. A moment ago it was not there, and now it was. Where had it come from? She looked around quickly. There was no one else in the house, and she had been sitting right there all the while. She had not heard anything. But there was this envelope.
Trembling, she opened the envelope, took out the enclosed letter, and read this short message:
Dear Ruth, I am going to be in your neighborhood this afternoon and I’d like to stop by for a visit. Love always, Jesus
Ruth stared at the bottom line. Jesus. She did not move for a long time. All the possibilities went through her mind. It was some elaborate trick, she was losing her mind, she was dreaming; or, it truly was a miracle, and Jesus would soon be there for a visit. She did believe in Jesus, and did believe that Jesus could do miracles; but why one like this and why for her? “Why would Jesus want to visit me?” she thought, “I’m not anyone special.”
Whatever it was, Ruth decided she would respond as if it really were a letter from Jesus. If she was losing her mind, at least no one was home to see it. But just in case it was from Jesus, she would be prepared. After all, the envelope did appear out of nowhere.
With the decision made, Ruth’s mind shifted from miracles to practicalities. If Jesus was coming for a visit, she would have to have something to serve him. She needed to run to the corner store. She grabbed her purse and was off down the street. At the store, she couldn’t decide what to get. What would Jesus like? She decided she’d just get a little of everything, and have a whole variety of items on hand. It took her longer than she thought it would, and by the time she left, she had two full bags and was in a hurry.
As Ruth walked down the street with her arms full, she noticed two people approaching her from out of the alley. They were shabbily dressed and even a little scary looking. But when the man spoke he had a polite voice. “Ma’am, can you help us out?” he said. “I’ve been out of work, and my wife and I haven’t eaten for a while. We had a long walk to get here and we’re cold and we’re hungry. Anything you could give us, would be much appreciated.”
“Look,” Ruth said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any time. I have a very important guest coming, and I need what I have here and I’m in hurry.”
The man was obviously disappointed, but looked at her kindly, said he understood, and they turned away.
As she watched them leave, Ruth’s heart sank. “Wait,” she called out to them, starting to pick out a couple items from her bag. They returned as she tried to decide what to keep and what to give them. Finally, she just gave them both bags, and said “Here, you need this more than I do. I’ll figure something else out for my guest.” They thanked her again and again. As they walked away, Ruth noticed how much the lady was shivering. Without a thought, she took off her coat and gave it to the lady. “Here, you can have this too,” she said, “I have another one at home.” Again, they thanked her.
Ruth smiled and turned to walk the two blocks home. Now she was cold and was returning with nothing to serve her guest. That was bad enough, but it would be worse to miss the visit from Jesus, so she hurried home empty-handed to wait.
Before long, she was back at her kitchen table. Once again, there was a warm cup of coffee ahead of her. A fresh pot of coffee was on the stove, so at least she would have that to offer Jesus. As she sat there, she was wondering if there were any Bible verses about Jesus drinking coffee, but she could not think of any. Deep in thought, she reached down for her cup, and her hand bumped an envelope. Another envelope appeared out of nowhere. She opened it quickly, and read the letter’s brief message:
Dear Ruth, It was so good to see you again. Thank you for all the food. And thank you also for the beautiful coat. Love always, Jesus
That story may sound familiar to you. This concept of Jesus appearing under the guise of someone in need has been written about before. The writer of this story (found on the internet) may have gotten the idea from a story by the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy wrote a short story called Martin the Cobbler, in which Martin, like Ruth, is informed that Jesus would visit him the next day. So Martin also makes all kinds of preparations for his special guest: food to eat, gifts to give the Lord, and other signs of his devotion. But it becomes a long and disappointing day. Jesus never does appear, but instead a steady stream of needy people come into his shop. Martin, being the good man he is, cannot refuse to help any of them. Little by little, everything he had set aside for the visit by Jesus is given away to these desperate people.
By the end of the day, Martin has nothing left, not even for his own supper. But it hardly matters, he thinks, Jesus did not come to him anyway. It must have been only a dream and nothing more. But as he prepares for bed, Martin receives another vision. Now it is indeed Jesus who is appearing to him. In the vision, as in the letter to Ruth, Jesus thanks Martin for all the ways Martin was kind to him as he appeared to him throughout the day under the guise of the poor and the needy at his door. (continued…)
Luke 3:10-11 — “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John (the Baptist) answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Proverbs 22:9 — The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
Ezekiel 16:49 — (The Lord says), “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
Teach us to see, O Lord, that when we give to others, we give to you. We ask this for the sake of Jesus, through whom you give all things. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Prayer, Concordia Publishing House, page 108.