Like most men who sincerely struggle with the baggage of an addiction, Manuel has good days and bad days. Some days are filled with great sights and sounds, the warm embraces and smiles of his local coastal town. While some days are filled with nothingness…
I can clearly recall my first and second encounter with Manuel. First was him begging me for change outside of an ATM with his surroundings littered with trash, empty alcohol bottles, and spare small coins. It was dusk and it appeared as though he had been there for quite some time. He was barely awake but had enough energy and sobriety to take off his croc and show me his two deformed feet, as if to say, “Look at me! I deserve some help here!”
The second time was him begging me for change outside of a store clear across town. At the first encounter I declined him, while the next I sat with him a few moments and spoke choppy Spanish with him.
“All I have on me, Manuel, is this change but can I pray with you? Can I pray that Jesus would be truly present with you today?” A sheepish and shameful half grin and a “Yes, my friend” was all I got.
My next encounter was on a Thursday evening with my entire family. We were leaving church and had planned to grab something to eat as a family. There he was – this time with a friend named Pedro – sitting at his post outside of the ATM booth, a fairly genius post for a beggar to sit, in my opinion. This time he recognized me as a person… and I recognized him as a person.
“Felipe, my friend!” he called out.
“Hola Manuel! Como estas?!” That was about the extent of my Spanish.
He acknowledged my beautiful wife and children and asked if they were all mine.
“Si. Es mi esposa y mi familia, Manuel.”
A huge smile lit up his face. “Ah, muy bonita, Felipe! Muy bonita!”
In extremely choppy Spanish I said, “Look, we are headed to grab some dinner and would love for you and your friend to join us. Will you join us?” His face lit up even more, almost like a child finding out his dad had skipped work for the day and was taking him camping or something.
That night we prayed as a family at the dinner table – Manuel and his buddy Pedro there with us as well. Pedro also struggles with alcoholism. I invited them to order what they wanted and to enjoy a meal with us. They ordered beer (and food) because that’s what they are used to doing. We attempted to converse in Spanish and essentially got nowhere so we ended up simply looking and smiling at one another over a meal for the most part.
Quite awkward at times, but as they went their own way and my family went our way I asked my children what they thought the requirements were for us to go to heaven one day.
“We know, Dad…The golden rule…Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself… You and mom have already taught us that.”
“Bingo. But listen to this.” Then I paraphrased the passage below.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I have often encountered Jesus in folks like Manuel. Folks I often assume I don’t have time or energy for. I often move in another direction to safeguard my time and my energy and I am ashamed to type that. I often view the poor, the addicted, the overwhelmed, and the beggar as someone who is not on an equal ground as me. How far from reality I am.
Were Jesus’ words above sincere? Did he mean what he so firmly stated? Perhaps the poor, addicted, overwhelmed beggar in this scene is actually me? Thankfully my shortcomings and addictions have yet to place me outside of an ATM begging for money. Thankfully I have family and friends who would probably rescue me instead of selfishly walking by if I ever found myself there. Thankfully I was born with two working feet. And thankfully on and on and on…
But if Jesus’ words are actually sincere then yes indeed my family and I were indeed the ones receiving that night – even more so than Manuel received from me.
We sat with Jesus and dined that evening. Think about that for a moment. We sat with Jesus and dined that night. Think about that for a moment the next time you see someone in need, in addiction, someone requiring you to selflessly redirect your plans or energy.
I pray that Manuel will be freed of his addictions one day. I pray a prayer of thanksgiving for his brokenness and willingness to beg out of desperation as it indeed brought us closer to JESUS.
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