My friend Jeff is the director of a Louisville area non-profit called Clean Socks Hope. Clean Socks (as we refer to it) began with the simple idea of giving clean socks to homeless people. The organization has now adopted a 10 year plan to invest in New Albany’s Midtown neighborhood. Jeff has office space at the Midtown Commons building and many of Clean Socks’ efforts coincide with Midtown Ministries, the ministry I work for.
Jeff asked the question to myself and a group of other men who hope to see Midtown transformed by the gospel:
“What is wrong with us?”
The group laughed and asked Jeff to clarify what he meant by the question.
“Why are we drawn to this demographic?” He asked, “Why, after being rejected and frustrated so many times, do we stick around? It seems that sane people would have given up a long time ago. But we are still here. What is wrong with us?”
This question kicked off a meeting filled with laughter, tears, and a host of stories detailing our misadventures in the neighborhood.
It’s a good question.
I have interacted with quite a few people who work with the poor. Many of these people, after much difficulty, give up.
And I understand why.
It so often seems that nothing is changing. The poor are always with us. And just when we think a pocket of the neighborhood is improving, everything implodes. Families move, houses catch on fire, teenagers go to prison.
I have wanted to throw in the towel a few times.
One Christmas, Rachel (my wife) and I were driving to our hometown to see our families. We were on the interstate for about 20 minutes when Rachel realized we had left an important gift at home and needed to turn around. I’m not really sure what happened next. It could have been the holiday spirit or it could have been Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” playing through our car speakers, but I just burst into tears.
And I don’t really cry that often.
But man, I was really going.
As my lovely wife attempted to console me, I realized that I was just tired.
“I’m just so tired of giving, giving, and giving.” I remember saying as a thin layer of snot ran onto my upper lip. Christmas season with the poor is a very draining time. Everyone wants something from the church and will sometimes do ugly things to get what they want.
So I was tired of giving.
All I wanted to do was go to my parents house and open up a ridiculous pile of presents. And that’s exactly what I did.
Then, after Christmas, I came right back to Midtown. Why?
What is wrong with me?
I’m pretty sure the answer to this question is “Jesus.”
When I was in high school, my youth leader Blake preached a message on how Jesus ruined his life.
What a brilliant thought!
“Everything was going perfectly as planned, then I found Jesus. And now I am here, ministering to a bunch of kids.”
I read this passage in the gospels when I was a young believer:
“After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” (Luke 5:27-32, ESV)
And then Jesus ruined my life. He said, “You need to do this same thing.”
The good news is, he said this same thing to a lot of people. And some of those people have listened to him and I get to work with them.
So, what is wrong with me and those around me is that we want to be around the same types of people as Jesus. We have encountered the living Christ in our interactions with the “least of these” and we can’t walk away.
No matter how hard it gets.
Jesus, the friend of sinners.
Lets join him at his banquet table and talk about this some more.