She pauses, the doorbell’s eerie reverberations beat a note of panic through her veins. She wipes her hands on the linen apron wrapped around her and hurries to tell them to hide themselves in the basement or attic.
She breathes deeply, realizes this is the moment she and her husband have talked about, and opens the door.
“Where is your husband?” the uniformed men ask gruffly as they peer in through the glow of the street light. The snow falls thickly this mid-winter’s night.
Magda Trocmé invites them in. She tells him how her husband André was not at home, but out visiting his parishioners, marching through the snow drifts to bring comfort as he sat around the humble kitchen tables of Le Chambon. She brings them to his study to wait.
Later, she hears his heavy-soled shoes thudding across their floor. He enters the study and she hears the officers tell him their errand: they’ve been sent to arrest the pastor of Le Chambon.
But first, supper.
Food must always come first.
You see, this isn’t a story about a courageous Protestant woman who hid Jews in Nazi-occupied France, knowing her own life was at risk—though it could be that story. No, this is a story about her simple invitation, it is a story about Magda’s ordinary and revolutionary offering of welcome.
Sometimes revolution is as simple as welcome.
Later her friends would ask why she invited them in. How could she could show such welcome to such awful men—men who might be taking not only the Jews she hid but also her husband? How could she be so forgiving, so decent? they’d ask.
Her reply is stark and startling in its grace: “What are you talking about? It was dinnertime; they were standing in my way; we were all hungry. The food was ready. What do you mean by such foolish words as ‘forgiving’ and ‘decent’?”
Sometimes revolution is as simple as welcome. It is often the ordinary where grace comes in unbounded and free, to wipe out our categories.
You see, there was a precedent there: life had been shared on ordinary days with ordinary people around the table. In fact, it was the life-on-life around the table that endeared Le Chambon to André and Magda. Inviting the soldiers in squared not only with Magda’s staunch practicality—“they were standing in my way”—but also with a life of radical and daily grace.
Because ordinary life around the table can be audacious. True life around the table—in meals and in the sacrament—must first be received in a posture of our need. Before God, we are all equal, all made in his image—whether we hide Jews or arrest them, whether we use our influence for our own gain or pour it out for others. When we live life around the table, we’re all equal. We’re all in need of daily bread. Seeing our need allows us the courage to be generous with those who show up at our door, and those who live under our roofs.
The question for us is: will we give what we have?
Nevertheless, Magda’s reply is foreign to our modern ears—our ears which feign tolerance but harbor judgment and condescension. But Magda shows us another way: we were all hungry. The food was ready. We are all needy. And there is food to supply the need.
We’re all needy. We all need someone to look in our eyes and see to our core and to come alongside us in grief and fear and pain.
And there is the gracious provision of bread. The question for us as we consider Magda’s story is: will we give what we have? Or will we paper over our neediness and assume the bread is just for us, just for those who think the same way, or look the same or belong to the same political party or country club?
Will we be lavish in meeting the rather mundane and daily needs of those around us?
Will we listen to our spouse? Will we stop what we’re doing and our schedule to ask good questions of our children? Will we have the space in our day to open up to a friend? Will we read books that make us think and provoke us towards action? Will we be quick to repent of the ways we so often barricade ourselves behind busyness and importance or, conversely, fritter away our time so that there is no substance to be found in our souls?
Will we open ourselves? Or, will we squint our eyes against what is different and even vile?
Will we, like the original teller of Magda’s story, seek to have a “door in the depths of [our] being: a door that is not locked to the faces of all other human beings”? Will we say, along with him, “I know that I want to be able to say, from those depths, “Naturally, come in, and come in.”‘
*Magda’s story can be found in Frank Hallie’s book: Lest Innocent Blood be Shed: The Story of Le Chambon and the Good that Happened There.
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at AAHales.com
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