I have always been the fat kid. The one that everyone makes fun of, the one that’s the butt of all the jokes. I am the guy when people see coming that they are embarrassed by. I have suffered through that humiliation for probably 50 of my 57 years here on this earth. I remember that somewhere around the 7th grade laying my head down on my desk as a half dozen tormentors beat me. They were careful to punch and kick only where my clothes were, so not to get into trouble. This was their “Initiation.” Initiation to what, I’m not sure. I remember the bruises. And, I remember crying.
I had watched my high school play football from the time that I was 6 years old. My biggest dream in my young life was to put on that uniform and to play for Butler High School. By the time freshman football came along I had begun to work out and I hit my growth spurt. I remember in gym that fall I was challenged to wrestle the ringleader of the beating. He was still bigger than me and stronger than me, but somehow on that day I pinned him repeatedly and per our gym coach won the match.
I remember him saying to me he’d see me later. I remember my reply to him as if it was yesterday, “Go for it.” He never spoke to me again or I to him. I was no longer a joke to him, but someone who he had to take seriously.
For the first time in my life I stood my ground and honestly think that’s when God gave me this burning desire for justice. To be an advocate for those who have none and to be a real friend to those most churches, schools and society, ban routinely with predictable slurs of “Get a Job!” But what’s being said is that you are not like me, you don’t deserve to breathe where I breathe, and you’re not worthy of God’s love.
When I see injustice in Midtown especially by the well-fed I become enraged. When children, the elderly or the marginal are abused, insulted or considered not worthy of help I become inconsolable. Thankfully, over the last five and a half years God has helped me control the anger by sending brothers who have on multiple occasions talked me from the ledge of saying or doing something that I would deeply regret.
God has helped me realize that some of the finest people I have ever known are out there on the margins, in the shadows and out in the darkness on the edge of town. This weekend was our Open House for Clean Socks Hope and it was an overwhelming success. I must say what made my day was that somehow those who were impacted most, those that we unintentionally lied to by our sudden departure from Midtown Commons still found us. They still cared for and loved us and in no way held a grudge for what happened back in July.
In fact, it seemed like they are handling it better than we have been. One of our friends from the neighborhood is now off the street, sheltered, working full time and handing out business cards, giving us Adult Ed literature and wouldn’t eat because he had a date. Others, maybe still struggling with some old familiar demons were tossing out words of encouragement like, “I love you,” and “This is too much food,” and “I can’t believe that you are doing this for me!”
Our Community Pastor Preston Searcy pointed out that in the Greek translation of poor that Jesus uses in the New Testament literally means “beggar.” In other words, to survive they must beg.
My take on that and I think we can infer from our Savior’s actions is that just because you are poor doesn’t mean that you are somehow incapable or unworthy. You see, He spent most of his time in the margins and battled and loathed the well-fed.
As I’ve aged, I have come to forgive those who have hurt me so deeply throughout the years. My beautiful wife has helped me temper the hurt with humor and compassion and we still at times marvel at the childishness of groups of people. Sadly, in many circles we still are not welcomed or if we are backs are turned and whispers abound, but we know that Jesus gave grace freely even to those society decides not worthy of God’s love.
In scripture, it’s written, ” But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14)
And, that’s exactly what happened this weekend.
I can hear the Pharisees saying with a self-important look, “I’ll see you later.”
And, I can hear Jesus saying, “Go for it.”