george hancock stefanWhen we were kids, my cousin and I would joke about who is the oldest. He was born on January 1, 1950 and I was born on February 25, 1950. However, on my birth certificate, it said I was born on the 5th of March. My mother would always bristle when I teased her about my birthday. She would reply, “I know when you were born. I gave birth to you, after all, but the person who recorded your birth was drunk and recorded the date that your father went to announce it to the village records office.”

My cousin and I spent a good portion of my vacation two years ago talking about our lives now that we are in our sixties. He is retired and still lives in the place where we were born. Both of my parents are dead and so is his father. A few months before I met with him, his wife died and he thought that he should move to be with his daughter who lives in the United States. However, he found that he cannot fly unless he is sedated and now he is not sure if he wants to move here.

After reading a passage in church a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about my family and my life so far. Psalm 37:25-26 says, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread.  They are always generous and lend freely: their children will be blessed.”

My understanding of this passage is that the author is approaching the end of his life and he is reflecting on the major issues that he has observed. At one of our annual meetings, a church trustee remarked that the pastor most likely knows everything about us except how much we put in the offering plate. As a church, we have decided that giving is something that only the church treasurer knows. While his statement may be slightly exaggerated, pastors are privileged to know many things about the lives of their congregation.

The book of Psalms starts with observations. It talks about men who go by, stop, and sit with evil men. The conclusion of their life is very destructive. The Psalmist shifts suddenly and says, “not so with the godly (or with the righteous). They find their pleasure in the book of the Lord and in it they delight (meditate) day and night.” The conclusion of their lives is positive not only for themselves but for the generations to follow.

The presence of bread on my family’s table was something that I have pondered many times. Communism brought poverty to Yugoslavia (even for those of us who lived in the granary of Vojvodina) and many families had to start eating cornbread. Later, there was no food in schools to feed the children until American capitalists sent us powdered milk and rice. When our family lived in an Italian refugee camp for 16 months, we had pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yet in all of these instances, there was never a day where we did not have food at all. We were not forsaken by God and we did not have to go begging.

There is a Hebrew tradition to leave an empty chair at the table, just in case the Messiah comes. I have seen this tradition in many other homes too, where people strive to follow the commands of the Lord. It is not in expectation of the Messiah, but left as a prayer of generosity. “If there is a hungry person God, we have prepared a seat. There is still a place at this table for one more person. God, send a needy person and we will welcome them and treat them as we would treat you.” When we leave a seat at our table and look out for those in need, we are bringing the words of the Psalms to life by ensuring that no children will beg for bread.