A banquet with the poor

When you hold a banquet, invite the poor,
the crippled, the lame, the blind…
Luke 14: 13

  As I read these words this morning., I thought of the entrance hymn of the Salvadoran Popular Mass, Vamos todos al banquete –  We are all going to the banquet.

The words were inspired by a sermon of Padre Rutilio Grande, S.J, which he gave about a month before his martyrdom on March 12, 1977.

The Mass was celebrated as a type of protest against he recent expulsion of a priest. The words are strong:

“All of us have the same Father. We are all children of this Father, although we were born of different mothers. All of us are brothers and sisters. We are equal…

“The Lord God, in this plan, gave us a material world, like this material bread and this material cup which we lift up in offering to Christ the Lord. It is a material world for everyone, without borders. This is what Genesis tells us. It is not something I make up….

“But the material world is for everyone, without borders. A common table with a tablecloth big enough for everyone, like this Eucharist. Each one with a seat, so that each one comes to the table to eat.”

Likewise the hymn is subversive of all attempts to hoard the gifts of the world.

We are all going to the banquet,
to the Lord’s table.
Each of us have our own stools,
we have a place and a mission.

God invites all the poor
to this common table – by faith –
where there are none who grab everything for themselves
and where no one doesn’t have food.

God calls us to make of this world
a table where there is equality,
working and struggling together,
sharing our property.

The Spanish phrase I translate as “food” is con que. It’s what you have in addition to a tortilla. Not just tortilla and salt – the meal of the poorest – but beans and more.

Here is Honduras, as in El Salvador, I have experienced the hospitality of the poor – who would kill a chicken to the visiting gringo. (I tell them I don’t eat meat and so they can save the protein for their family.)

But I haven’t often had the poor as my dinner guests.

Yet some of the most significant moments of my life have been sharing food with the poor – at Haley House in Boston where I helped once a week one summer while in grad school; at the Emergency Residence Project in Ames, where we always sat down and ate with the guests after preparing the meal; and here in Honduras during the two years when we had a lunch program for poor kids.

There’s something special about sharing food with those who are really hungry.

This remind me of the grace before meals I learned forty years ago in Lanzo del Vasto’s Community of the Ark in France:

give bread to those who are hungry
and hunger and thirst for justice

to those who are filled.



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