The warm and fuzzy video, captured by a customer’s cell phone, went viral. It showed an encounter between a manager at a popular fast food restaurant known for its foundation on Christian principles and an apparently homeless young man. Or at least one in need of food. The manager immediately said yes to the man’s request for a meal and promised him not just scraps or leftovers, but a full meal.
There was just one condition: that the needy man allow the manager to pray for him first. The manager came close, put his hands on the young man’s shoulders, bowed his head and prayed for him. The amateur videographer captured the moment and captioned it with a statement of gratitude that his young daughter had witnessed Christian love in action.
I saw the video from a Facebook post (sorry, folks – I strictly “Friend” only family), and I’m pretty sure I clicked “Like” in the moment. Something about the scene bothered me, though, and I couldn’t quite figure out what.
Until Sunday morning, when David and I were visiting a church in our neighborhood and heard a sermon about agape love based on the familiar passage in 1 Corinthians 13. The pastor unpacked the story with a viewpoint that rings true for me, though I suspect may be unpopular with some. She pointed out that the homeless young man had to acquiesce to have a prayer spoken over him in order to receive the gift of a basic necessity for life.
Maybe the young man was himself a praying person and welcomed the words. Yet he was also hungry and broken and forced by those circumstances into abject need. Bowed into a less-than stance that was dependent on the “Christian” generosity of someone in power. Perhaps the manager’s purpose was holy and good and not as in-your-face, showy “Christian” as it may appear. His actions were definitely more generous than those of some establishments who punish employees who give food to the hungry – food that is simply thrown away to be eaten by rats or insects.
But what if the manager had freely given sustenance to this hungry soul, then as the warmed and fed traveler headed out on his way, the manager had silently, unobtrusively closeted himself away from watching eyes and prayed for him? The person in control of soothing a hungry belly could have dignified that plight with a free gift and a smile or even a pat on the shoulder, perhaps accompanied by a quiet promise to pray for the man. Instead, the manager subjected the supplicant to the imposition of the manager’s version of goodness – a meal for a prayer.
Recovery and the gift of spirituality have taught me that when we are at our most broken and desperately hungry, we need healing food without any trappings of religion. We need to be invited into a welcoming 12 Step room and an encounter with the God of our understanding, who I’m pretty certain doesn’t require us to jump through any hoops for that privilege.
I call that Agape Love. And that’s the kind that we need to make viral.
Marnie C. Ferree