Front of the Line

Jimmy is one of the first neighbors I met in Midtown. He’s in his mid-forties but has the mental capacity of a child.

I used to get voicemails from Jimmy on my office phone. “Preston… this is Jimmy… How’s it goin’?”

(long pause)

“Well, call me back.”

He’s a lovable guy, but a little temperamental. Like the time he brought his guitar to our Thursday breakfast.

“That’s nice, Jimmy,” I told him.

“Well, I thought you could buy it from me,” he said.

“Sorry Jimmy, I don’t need another guitar.”

“What am I supposed to do with it now!?” He packed up the instrument and stormed off.

Is the gospel for Jimmy?

Living in a depressed neighborhood, I’ve discovered that mental illnesses and disabilities are more common than I ever realized. Several neighbors will never be independent. They’ll never sit down with a bible or the Purpose Driven Life and learn how to follow Jesus.

Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (See John 4)

When Jesus says this, does he mean it for Jimmy? Even if Jimmy can never sit through an entire church service or attend a regular bible study?

Some time ago, Jimmy knocked on my office door. He wanted to talk, which usually meant he just wanted some company. There was a book lying on my desk. The cover of the book was a collage of artistic renderings of the face of Jesus.

Jimmy pointed to one of the pictures on the book cover and said, “That’s not Jesus.”

“No?” I asked.

He pointed to some of the other pictures. “That’s not him. That’s not him.”

Finally he landed on a picture and said, “Now that’s Jesus.”

I was intrigued and asked him, “Jimmy, how do you know what Jesus looks like?”

“Oh, he talks to me,” Jimmy explained. “ He tells me things, like ‘keep being good’ and ‘I love you’ and ‘always believe.’”

I thought this was really cool and told Jimmy I thought his relationship with Jesus was impressive.

“He used to say different stuff to me,” Jimmy continued. “Back when I was doing bad things.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What would he say then?”

Jimmy’s eyes widened and he screamed, “No no no no no no no no!”

I held in my laughter as Jimmy’s face returned to normal. He said, “Now I do better and he says good stuff.”

Honestly, I’m a little envious of Jimmy’s relationship with Jesus. It’s simple and straightforward.

It’s easy to disregard people like Jimmy, to think the gospel isn’t really for them.

The gospel is for the capable, the ones who can put their lives together with a little guidance from Jesus, right?

But the first will be last, and the last will be first.

Maybe one day I’ll know Jesus well enough that I’ll hear him yell, “STOP THAT!” when I’m about to sin and “Well done” when I’m obedient.

And on judgement day, when Jimmy’s at the front of the line, he’ll invite me up from the back to stand next to him. He’ll put his arm around me and we’ll walk into eternity, each of us excited to see our dear friend and Lord.

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