Six days every week a carrier delivers our mail, following the famous United States Postal Service creed that “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” To perform this essential but undervalued service, she drives a vehicle that is more than 30 years old; and its worn-out paint job shows it. (The average age of a USPS “Long Life Vehicle” is 28 years.) Rundown trucks like hers make up about 75 percent of the USPS fleet that travels more than 2.6 million miles a day across America.
She and more than 600,000 fellow Post Office workers provide a heroic service as employees of an independent agency of the federal government that is perpetually underfunded and poorly supported.
And it’s now on the edge of bankruptcy.
In a little peasant village in Galilee, Jesus tells a story about “The Friend at Midnight” (Luke 11:5-8). “Suppose you have a friend who comes to you in the middle of the night,” he says, and the friend asks, “Could you lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine on a trip has just shown up and I have nothing to offer him.” And suppose you reply, “Stop bothering me. The door is already locked and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.”
Jesus ends the parable with this: “I tell you, even though you won’t get up and give the friend anything out of friendship, yet you will get up and give the other whatever is needed because you’d be ashamed not to.”
“We cannot allow the Post Office and its essential services to starve to death.”
Jesus is reminding his hearers how they faithfully respond to any traveler who comes to their village needing something to eat and a place to stay. This community commitment to hospitality is so powerful that any of them would be ashamed not to give the traveler what he needs. Jesus is speaking to peasants who live always on the edge of losing their own food and home. Although they have almost nothing, they do not fail to honor their unshakable commitment to feed the stranger. The honor code is part of the network of generosity that binds members of the community to each other and to the other small peasant villages around them.
Every line of this parable not only affirms the peasants’ generosity but also condemns the dog-eat-dog, ruthless competition of the wealthy elite who regard such generosity as a fool’s errand.
The United States Postal Service binds together all the cities, towns and villages of our country. In addition to its famous “neither snow nor rain” motto, its honor code is expressed in the less well-known inscription on the entrance to the nation’s first post office in Washington, D.C., now home to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum:
Messenger of sympathy and love
Servant of parted friends
Consoler of the lonely
Bond of the scattered family
Enlarger of the common life
Carrier of news and knowledge
Instrument of trade and industry
Promoter of mutual acquaintance
Of peace and of goodwill
Among people and nations
These words, originally penned in slightly different language by the former president of Harvard and then adapted by President Woodrow Wilson, resonate remarkably with Jesus’ first-century parable about peasant villages connected by bonds of kindness, generosity and hospitality.
Jesus tells this parable to villagers who are under constant threat by wealthy landowners and their thirst for more land. Today the United States Post Office is under a similar threat by those in power who would undermine its mission to be a messenger of sympathy and love, to bond together the scattered family, to sustain all our friendships, to enlarge our common life and to engender goodwill among us all.
In my view, people of faith should weigh in on this important issue. The future of the Post Office and its financial viability is both a political and moral concern. Certainly, this agency should be accountable in fair and responsible ways, and it should be responsive to criticism and suggestions for improvement. But we cannot allow the Post Office and its essential services to starve to death.
For 245 years the United States Postal Service has helped bind our nation together. And that is something we need now more than ever.