Artist and writer Pops Peterson’s Saying Grace in the Main Street Café is a tribute to Norman Rockwell’s 1951 masterpiece, Saying Grace.  

(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Mass-Blog-for-the-22nd-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2021.mp3)

One of the un-mourned casualties of the Covid Pandemic has been civility. Managers of casual dine-in restaurants strapped by staffing challenges can testify to that. They’ve seen impatient customers throw fits when they have to wait long periods either for a table or for their dinner. Such immaturity inspired the manager of one diner to post a sign on her door: “If you can’t be kind, find another place to dine.”

Anyone going on vacation this year is likely to witness this kind of misbehavior—or, God forbid, participate in it. But our pent-up need for free-time is no excuse for pent-up steam-release. Maybe all that time in solitary confinement has caused our spiritual muscles to grow flabby.

So, consider this review question: when eating out, how often do we follow Jesus’s example and thank God for the food in a moment of prayer? For that matter, how often do we take a moment to thank the server who puts it in front of us? As Christians, we are taught to believe that our gratitude in both situations has a common destination:

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20

This Sunday’s Gospel (Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) gives us the opportunity to see ourselves as Jesus saw the judgmental consumers of his day—the Pharisees. Imagine Jesus and his disciples sitting down for a bite to eat at a local diner. Observing them from a distance is a gathering of Pharisees taking great offense—not at any lack of Godly gratitude for the food, but for the absence of phony human ritual.

“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?,” the critics ask. Jesus responds:

“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites; … Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

The next time you eat out, take a good look at the person who greets you, the one who seats you, the one who serves you and the one who readies other tables for more customers. They are doing so not only for the customers you see, but to support their own families whom you don’t see—assuming there is a family to be seen. If their service doesn’t meet your expectations, think of the expectations you’re failing to meet, and think of the advice James offers in Sunday’s second reading (Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27):

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Orphans and widows have day jobs AND night jobs. Sometimes both. Many such jobs involve serving ungrateful customers. Let’s remember to be kind when we dine.

–Tom Andel