"And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
The heat of the day was chastened by an oak that seemed to hold up the sky. Below, her clothing a patchwork of perspiration, a woman placed sandwiches on plates and passed them to men and women who shuffled through a line like ants on a concrete slab.
"God bless you," she smiled, looking into the eyes of each one. More often than not, she was rewarded by a returned smile, a nod, or a muttered "Thanks."
Nearby, a man strummed a guitar and sang, "All who are thirsty. All who are weak. Come to the fountain. Dip your heart in the stream of life." A black man sat nearby, a sandwich untouched on his lap, nodding, mouthing the words, heedless of a tear staining his cheek.
For Beth, the scene was both captivating and threatening. She was late for brunch with her roommate. But as she tried to steer around the square, eyes fixed on cobblestones at her feet, something tugged her into line.
"Holy Spirit come," echoed the guitarist's refrain. "Holy Spirit come."
"Sandwich honey?" came a voice. The offered plate appeared from nowhere and Beth claimed it like a lifeline. Seeing she was last in line, Beth paused to ask, "What's going on here?"
"Oh, every Saturday, Lord willing, we come down here with food for the homeless, sing some songs, pray with them," the woman smiled.
Beth looked around. Black men in torn shirts mingled with Hispanic men whose paint-flecked boots showed signs of recent (though sporadic) employment. Two women with children, one pregnant, leaned against a wall, balancing plates and pacifiers.
"What brings you here?" the question brought Beth back.
"Oh, me? I was just on my way to ... (Beth squelched the name of the trendy bistro) well, to meet some friends and I wanted to see what was going on. Who runs this mission?"
The woman chuckled, as if she'd never considered that question before. "I guess God runs it," she said. "I surely don't know anyone else who would claim to be in charge."
Something in the woman's words made Beth recall the Bible study she was taking at her church.
"You know, we were just learning this week about how we need to find a work that God is doing and become a part of it -- instead of trying to get God to bless what we are doing," Beth said. "I thought that would be really hard to do, but ... you're doing it!"
"Well, grab an apron and you can do it too," the woman laughed.
As Beth packed leftovers in styrofoam and refilled iced tea cups, she couldn't stop thinking about her Bible class. She and a dozen others from the congregation had been studying the New Testament once a week, pouring over each passage, analyzing the original Greek translations. But there'd been something missing, something she'd really never noticed .... until today.
They'd been so excited to embrace Jesus as their Savior, so relieved to release their sins to Him. But now Beth mentally flipped through some of those "other" lessons that had seemed just beyond their reach.
--"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." --Philippians 2:12
--"And he said to all, 'If any will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.'" --Luke 9:23
--“The King shall answer and say unto them, 'Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'” --Matthew 25:40
--"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." --Galatians 1:10
Beth finished cleaning up and handed her apron back to the woman. Thunderheads rolled in, completing the oak's rebuke of the summer sun. But a careful observer would have noted the drops on Beth's upturned cheeks had been there before the first raindrops fell. She felt a gratitude she'd never before experienced in her walk with Jesus -- and one she was eager to share with her Bible study friends.
"Thank you Jesus," whispered the woman as she watched Beth's departing back. "The harvest is plenty, but Lord you know the workers are few."