We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service
We’ve parked the car and are walking across the restaurant’s parking lot when suddenly I wonder if bringing my cousin here for lunch wasn’t a horrible idea. What if they refuse to seat us?
I tell myself that’s silly. Hugh’s been living in that skin for years now. He would have spoken up if we wouldn’t be served. He would have suggested we grab something to-go instead. He would have–
We’re at the door now, walking in, and the hostess looks us over. We’re all clean, and my husband and I are neatly dressed. But Hugh’s ragged clothes, shaggy hair and beard, and rotten teeth don’t wash away. “How many?” she asks us.
“Three,” Rich replies, a little point in his voice. The manager walks by, looks over his shoulder. The hostess leads us to a table in the far corner of the restaurant. We pass table after table of diners, and everyone looks up.
We’re in. I relax. I’m ready for time with my cousin. Rich and I order soda; Hugh asks for a beer. I think I see our server raise one eyebrow, but I couldn’t swear to it. Get over it, I tell myself. Just enjoy the time together.
“Eat well, Hugh,” I tell him, and Rich echoes my request. We all study the menu and make our choices. We eat, and we chat, just like regular people. Hugh wants to hear all the family news, and I do my best to remember everything, to tell it all. We’ve seen a funeral, and a baby, and a promotion, and a move since we talked last. For the rest of us, life is rolling along, even though one of us is ensnared.
The eating goes long because we have so much to talk about as I nibble at a turkey club and Hugh works on his fish and chips, orders a second beer. Rich eats his burger, silent, listening. I imagine that he is protecting us from some unnamed thing.
The table across from us turns over and new diners are seated. I catch a double-take tossed to our table, lob it back with a steady smile. The eyes turn away, faces redden.
We drive Hugh back to the place where a mother lets him sleep in her garage. She’s not his mother, but on this day we’ve seen how wide mother-love can stretch. And it’s broader than even I could imagine.
Hugh asks Rich for a few dollars for beer, and I’m glad he tells the truth. Rich snaps his wallet shut, I give my cousin one more hug, and we’re gone. We’re driving away now, back to our tidy, orderly lives, and I remember what I told the nurse, back at the nursing home a few hours earlier:
The only difference between his sin and mine is that his leaves signs that everyone can see. It’s true, isn’t it? We all fall short. Some of us fail in ways that allow us to keep up appearances, to keep up jobs, to keep up families, to keep up relationships–to hang on to our tidy, orderly lives. Some of us fall short in ways that bear claws, horrific talons that sink into our weak flesh and drag us down a rathole.
But we’ve all studied the menu and made our choices. And the hope in Christ, the hope in the work done on the cross for us by the One who is worthy, the work that washes us clean, and makes us acceptable, well–it’s still on the menu.
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.