He Won’t Be with Us Long
“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind….” – Luke 14:13
You smell him before you see him. Urine and sweat announce him, a filthy man held together by a worn leather belt. He’s all caved in, watery and trembling. Leaning against the wall of the bar-café, he raves about an old injustice.
He’s ten feet from my terrace table. Now I can’t smell the smoky paprika that seasons the artful tapa on my plate, or the orange blossoms on the trees that shade the square. Only him. I don’t know why people don’t get up and leave. Or how I keep eating.
It’s alcohol and who knows what else that reduced him, some heartache, some rift, some bad bounce of the ball. You can’t tell how old he is or whether he was once a handsome man. I think he will starve to death within the week.
I offer the waiter twenty euros: ‘Please give him something to eat.’ The waiter won’t take it. ‘We take care of him,’ he says. ‘He comes every day. He doesn’t eat much anymore, anyway. He won’t be with us long. His name is Gregorio.’
I think to myself, chastened: It’s one thing to make a place for the poor at your own benevolent discretion. It’s another when they come by every day, all human wreckage and unholy hygiene. It’s one thing to find occasions to be kind. It’s another to know a lost man’s name, that he can’t eat much anymore, that he won’t be with us long.
Jesus, friend of the poor, have mercy on Gregorio. Have mercy on the waiter at La Huerta. And have mercy on me.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.