In New York, we used to take our summer camp staff into Manhattan for a day. We would break them into small groups and give them a list of places to visit. Then, taking their valuables, we would hand them two subway tokens and a hard boiled egg. The tokens were for travel and the hard boiled egg was for food. They could eat the egg or trade it for something else.
One group I led got assigned to a wealthy area of Manhattan. Initially, it was a thrilling place to be, but, as the day drew on we discovered the hard side of wealth. Every time we tried to trade our eggs, we got chased away. Eventually store owners notified the police and we were told to leave the area. It was a new experience for us. We had become the invisible vagrants people avoided.
We ended up in the financial district as the business day was closing. Hungry, depressed and agitated, our group found a small Spanish restaurant that was also closing. Sharing our story, the owner looked upon us with mercy and gave us food to eat. Our hearts filled with joy. Not just that we had food, but that we had been seen and treated as human beings.
As we sat down on a deserted city street to eat, an elderly homeless man appeared. Looking at us he said, “Give thanks to the Lord for that food.” We smiled, shared some comments and prayed. When we had finished praying, we looked up and the man was gone.
In today’s reading, by eating with sinners, Jesus healed people from a social condition, invisibility. Then he invited his religious critics to discover a different kind of healing, mercy. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” How can these words shape your day and bring you healing? (Mt. 9: 9-13)