I don’t usually work Saturday mornings, but other volunteers were out of town. I had worked my usual Friday night shift the night before, and morning came way too early, so I dragged into Joe’s at 7am, turned on the OPEN sign and made a pot of Brazilian… because it’s my favorite.
Saturday mornings are slow, as most everyone is sleeping after late Friday night revelry, and I was looking forward to quietly sipping a cup or two myself. Daniel had been there roasting coffee for us earlier in the week, and the smoky aroma had been intoxicating, as the beans rolled over and over in the roasting drum.
Daniel had watched the beans closely for just the right color and sheen. He sniffed the air for the precise scent and checked his timer repeatedly. He enjoyed the delicate meticulous process of determining just the right moment to dump the beans out of the heat.
Then we had sampled his creation. It was perfect—smooth and round, no bitter after taste. His Brazilian… had instantly become my favorite of Daniel’s personal roast, and I was going to make the most of this groggy Saturday morning at Joe’s by sitting on the comfy couch and savoring it’s crazy goodness.
The early morning passed slowly with only a few customers, and then Bill came in. Bill is an older man—probably in his late 50’s. He has long, gray stringy hair and a long raggedy beard. He’s slight of build, wiry and walks with a significant limp. I had seen Bill around the neighborhood many times and had heard rumors of his daily visits to the clubs.
Bill came into Joe’s carrying his large thermal coffee cup. He immediately sat down at the table opposite of me and began to talk. Right away I could tell that Bill is not all there mentally. He rattled on about things that I didn’t quite understand, repeating phrases over and over. He was saying something about his sister and his mother, his house and a long walk.
I raised my eyes from the book I was reading and caught Bill’s gaze. Then, tacked onto the end of a slurred and run-on sentence, Bill held up his mug and asked, “Hey, can I have a cup of coffee.” He was not asking if he could “buy” a cup of coffee. He was asking if he could “have” one.
I regularly give away coffee and food at Joe’s. Many of the folks from this neighborhood just don’t have the money for anything, and I am happy that they will hang out and chat with me for a while, so I love to give them whatever they ask for. But this morning, I hesitated—it was Brazilian… Daniel only roasted one pound of it. It would be gone soon. And it was Bill—he wouldn’t know the difference between it and Taster’s Choice. And that thermos cup he carried was so big! Argh… I should have just brewed the bulk stuff we buy at Sam’s.
My hesitation lasted only a second, as these thoughts sped through my mind, immediately followed by conviction. Of course he could have a cup of coffee. How could I say no? Of course I couldn’t. “Give to those who ask of you…” So I said with a smile, “Sure, go ahead.”
Then as I watched Bill pushed himself up from the chair and limp his way over to the coffee pot, I suddenly remembered a similar encounter that Jesus once had.
The people were all tipsy, having enjoyed the party maybe a little more than they should have. It was, after all, a celebration! Weddings don’t happen every day. His mother had been distressed. The wine was all gone. The family would be embarrassed. Their reputation was at stake. Would Jesus do a miracle for them? Yes.
Then, not only did He turn the water into wine, it was better than the first wine they had served earlier in the evening—it was the best wine ever! Naturally. Jesus would only make the best—all for the glory of God, right? But most of them, being under the influence wouldn’t even realize. They couldn’t even appreciate the amazing quality of this delightful elixir. The best wine ever would be wasted at the end of the evening on the clueless. No. Jesus didn’t consider it a waste.
My eyes filled with tears as I realized this was much bigger than wine, or coffee for that matter. It was as big as salvation itself. Jesus gave His life—His everything—His very best… for us—the clueless. We have no idea how amazing His gift of Living Water is. We often even take for granted the quality of this thing that He has given to us, just going about our lives, drinking it as though it were the same as Folgers. And yet, He does not consider it a waste. Without hesitation, he gives what we don’t even appreciate.
Bill sat down and I laid aside my book. I wanted to focus my attention on the picture that God had just used to speak to me. I began to ask him questions. Through broken and slurred speech, I learned that thirty years ago Bill was in an accident. He was partying with some guys and his friend ran out of cigarettes. He told me repeatedly that he didn’t even smoke cigarettes himself, but he jumped on his motorcycle to run to the corner store and buy cigarettes for his friend.
Zooming down the road toward the store, Bill looked down for just a second. Precisely at that moment, a car backed out of a driveway right into Bill’s lane. When he looked up again, it was too late. He slammed into the side of the car at full speed. He never even put on his brakes. The driver of the car had been drinking.
Bill told me about his injuries—his broken bones, his scraped skin and his crushed skull—which they fixed with metal plates. He spent three months in a coma. When he awoke, he had to relearn everything. It took him years to learn how to live life again.
I learned that Bill lives on a disability check and that until recently he had been living with his mother. She had died and left her house to him. Now his sister pays his bills for him, but there’s never any money left over for anything—not even bus fare … But Bill can run.
Now, learning all these things about Bill took a long time, because Bill does not talk in straight lines. His story came out in bits and pieces, with parts being told again and again, while others of my questions were left unanswered. However, repeated again and again, in between unrelated sections he kept saying, “But I can run.”
Bill told me about another accident victim who had been in the rehabilitation center with him. This man was a quadriplegic, but he had learned to paint beautiful pictures by holding the paintbrush in his teeth. Bill said, “I can’t paint. But I can run. I run marathons.” I later found out that this is true. Bill has run marathons. I can hardly picture that scene, his scrawny body limping its way across the finish line—a real life Forest Gump.
Bill told me that he comes every day to the clubs. In fact, that morning he was hanging out at Joe’s waiting for the clubs to open. He has nothing else to do. He isn’t really able to do much at all. He can’t work. He can’t read. He doesn’t have anybody to do things with him. I wondered about the value of even having survived the crash so many years ago. Thirty years of life lived in that condition… “But I can run.”
Somewhere in the story of Bill’s life, he asked me for another cup of coffee and I smiled. Of course, he could have another cup. He thanked me and limped his way over to the pot to refill that gigantic mug he had brought with him.
When Bill sat down again, it was like his mind got stuck in a loop. He started talking to me about Valley of the Dolls, the club next door. He told me that they don’t let him bring his coffee mug in there. When he tries to bring his cup in, they stop him at the door and tell him no. He said, “I don’t have no money to buy beer from them, so I bring my coffee from home. But they won’t let me take it in.”
I kept asking Bill questions about his life, trying to learn more about his life and express interest in him, but he wouldn’t answer my questions anymore. He seemed to be stuck. He just kept holding up his mug and coming back to the phrase, “They won’t even let me take my coffee cup in there.”
I was sad. The semi-lucid moment had passed. It was clear I wouldn’t learn anything more about Bill today. We couldn’t even converse anymore. He just kept repeating the same thing over and over again. All I knew to do was sympathize with his frustration and apologize to him for the treatment he so often received.
Finally, Bill asked me what time it was. It was after eleven, and I knew the clubs would be open now. Bill rose to leave. He held up his mug and thanked me again for the coffee and then headed out the door. I watched him limp slowly down the sidewalk past the front window. But immediately after he had passed out of site, there he was again—limping back toward the door. He must have forgotten something…or maybe the club wasn’t open yet…
Bill opened the front door and poked his head in. He grinned really big at me, held up his giant thermal mug. He said, “Thank you. They won’t even let me take my coffee cup in there. Thank you.” He closed the door and limped back down the sidewalk.
Suddenly I got it. Bill hadn’t been stuck in a “loop.” He had been trying to tell me something! For that whole last part of our conversation he had been comparing me to the way they treated him next door, and he had been trying to thank me!
I remembered another experience Jesus had. He had healed ten lepers—an amazing miracle, an amazing sacrifice of his own reputation (as lepers were regarded as unclean outcasts), an amazing act of kindness toward the rejects of society. And yet, only one had returned to thank him. Only one. The most rejected of all. The one who was a Samaritan—hated and cursed by the Jews.
It was not a waste! Bill did appreciate my coffee gift! Not because it was Brazilian… but because he was accustomed to a miserable life of rejection and my coffee was kindness. I had spent Saturday morning at Joe’s with the least of these—with Jesus.