I knew a man that, prior to embracing Jesus, spent much of his life residing on skid row. He later dedicated his life to a ministry for special populations that had challenges similar to his earlier ones. This man exuded a wisdom that was informed by the hard work associated with getting his life back onto a even keel. It included none of the sappy platitudes we’ve come to expect from ease drifting souls.
I’ve never found myself on skid row. Although, I have lived a significant portion of my life on what some might describe as a shoestring budget, or at a subsistence level. And I know why so much of what Jesus taught and exemplified resonated with the poorest of the poor. Even on those rare occasions, when obstacles seemed insurmountable, I wasn’t unhappy. Sure, I would express frustration with more than a few expletives from time to time, but I never really doubted God’s provisioning.
I distinctly remember one morning when my car ran out of gas as I was sitting at a traffic light. When I looked in the rear view mirror, I noticed that right behind me was one of those roadside assistance trucks with a bid ol’ pusher bumper on the front. The driver pushed my car about a hundred yards into a gas station. I bought gas with the pennies I rolled the night before and got to work on time. The experience added about three minutes, if that, to the fill-up. When a friend of mine marveled at my “luck,” I simply said “it’s nice to go through life with Divine favor.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m a greatly flawed individual. I also know that God loved me anyway and all I want to do is reciprocate. I want to serve, unencumbered, in the way I have been called to serve. In the original movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, the main character, George, is sitting in a bar after his thwarted suicide attempt. Clarence, the wet and disheveled man sitting next to him, introduced himself as George’s guardian angel. To that, George responded saying, “Yeah, you look like the kind of angel I’d get.”
I loved that movie, in part because my dad’s name was Clarence and he had an understated sense of humor similar to that of George’s angel. It took George quite awhile to appreciate Clarence. And it took me a very long time to really appreciate my dad. But to me, both Clarences represent fidelity that is informed by high purpose. In addition to being flawed I have been greatly blessed. Not everyone has obvious models for what it means to be called in accordance with God’s purpose.
The Apostle Paul said “I have learned that, in whatever situation I find myself, therewith to be content. His was a truly great witness. For even in the midst of circumstances that would break the will of weak individuals, Paul maintained a positive view of the road ahead. Even when he was locked in the pokey, Paul knew that God’s ultimate justice is tempered with abundant mercy. This doesn’t mean that we should enter into sin with the expectation of Divine mercy. That is likely to have harsh consequences for the wages of sin is death.
Sooo, if “the wages of sin is death,” and if “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” then why aren’t we all dead? If justice reigned supreme in the universe, we probably would be. But as judges go, God is the fairest of the fair.
In the Parable of the two sons, after one son had squandered his inheritance sowing his wild oats, he realized he had reaped the consequences while dining with the swine. He thought “’How many hired servants of my father have bread enough to spare while I go hungry. I will go to my father, and I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no more worthy to be called your son; only be willing to make me one of your hired servants.’
This father loved this son and was always on the lookout for his return. On the day when the son approached his home, even while he was far off, the father saw him and ran out to meet him. When the son asked to be treated as a servant, the father would have none of it. He turned to the gathered servants and said ‘Bring quickly his best robe, the one I have saved, and put it on him, and put the son’s ring on his hand, and fetch sandals for his feet.’
When a Samaritan woman, a woman of questionable character in the eyes of men was brought before Jesus, he saw through eyes of love. He beheld a human soul who sincerely and wholeheartedly desired salvation. And that was enough. Jesus regarded her as having been sinned against more than sinning of her own desire. And she was forgiven.