I was a stranger. Their food said ‘welcome.’

Credit: Nick Boldt Credit: Nick Boldt

In the first apartment I ever rented, I let the landlord know our dishwasher wasn’t working. She came by, fixed the dishwasher and gave me some cookies. Today, my wife rolls her eyes and says that if I have a superpower, it’s that people like to give me food. If she has one, it’s immunity to mine.

If I were to trace this superpower, I’d take it back to an incident when I was 16. That summer I found myself driving on black pavement, framed by dry dirt and rows of trees bending with the peaches, plums and nectarines of California’s Central Valley. I drove in the quiet early morning hours to pick peaches with a team of local farm laborers, known to me as the “fellas.”

I normally worked in the packing shed, but this day I was asked to spend my first three or four hours picking alongside the fellas — they in their field-practical, long sleeves, pants and bandannas hanging behind ball caps; me out of place in basketball shorts and short sleeves, better suited for the shade of the packing shed.

Dawn filtered through dusty green leaves. Familiar Norteño rhythms paced us for a long day. Peach to peach, tree to tree. Up the ladder, down the ladder. Be cool, Jordan, be cool! I didn’t know then that I could thank the United Farm Workers when I sat down for break.

That breaktime was the first time I felt a spiritual sort of welcome. A welcome across big differences. A welcome I didn’t deserve.

The Bible is clear about welcoming the stranger (do it). And you can’t welcome anyone without food. The fellas and I sat in the cool dirt, and they laughed past my weak protest — “I have a PB&J back in the shed” — to feed me tacos with tortillas freshly heated over the open flame of a camping stove.

They welcomed me despite glaring differences of power and privilege.

Or was it, actually, because of those differences?

Whatever they really felt, they extended welcome with food, because food doesn’t need much language to accompany it. It simply says, “Welcome. You are with us. You are loved.”

Jesus takes bread and wine and says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” When we take communion, we remember Christ’s suffering and our commitments to him and his teachings. Jesus knew the power of a symbol and the power of food to welcome. The power to say, “You are loved.”

I don’t know what those guys really felt. Maybe they felt some significance to having an outsider pick with them for a bit. Or maybe they grudgingly shared those tacos because what else could they do? You, dear reader, might find that sad, or cynical, or just not the story you were expecting. Not me.

When someone offers you food, you take it. Full stop. Grudging or not. God knows there are reasons for Jesus to extend his welcome grudgingly, and you better believe I’ll take it.

Jordan Penner works for Mennonite Central Committee in Denver. He is a fruit snob and loves soccer, baking bread and making exactly three types of chocolate cake. 

Peaches and cream

1. Make or buy vanilla ice cream.
2. Cut up California peaches.
3. Combine and enjoy!

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