How would you respond to someone spitting on you as you tried to sleep on the sidewalk? With violence, despair or patience? Meet a man in this article who, like Jesus, responds the third way. But first…
I wrote the allegorical story titled, The Prison many years ago and have just published it here on my blog.
The prisoners in this story were guilty of committing the most heinous crimes against humanity. Their deliverance by the hero in the story could seem unjust to some. It is normal to view such vile offenders as deserving of their punishment, but rarely do we see ourselves as worthy of that same treatment.
Maybe we can see ourselves in this story, or maybe we cannot relate to these outlaws because we consider our crimes against God just “misdemeanors.”
It could be that the prison we find ourselves in is one of self-justification. “I’m not as bad as so-and-so. Sure I sin, but not big sins like some people.” We create a pecking order not only of sins, but of people who commit those sins. For some reason, many like to say, “I’m not as bad as Hitler.” Talk about lowering the bar!
Some of us find solace in comparing ourselves to others, while others are tormented by the same practice. I once saw a humorous book titled, Old Age Is Always Fifteen Years Older Than I Am. Whether we think better of ourselves as better or as worse, our self-perception is skewed when comparing ourselves with others.
We puff ourselves up, or tear ourselves down out of the common human experience known as insecurity.
The insecurities that exist in all of us come from the knowledge, experience and consequences of our shortcomings. Our personal faults and character flaws are painful to face. They cause us to feel shame. The definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
So many of our friends challenged with homelessness are trapped in shame and other people’s lowly view of them.
One of my buddies named Richard (left), who is experiencing homelessness, told me that he loves The Relief Bus. He said that when he goes to other places for food, he is often treated roughly, like a prisoner. But, he says our staff and volunteers at The Relief Bus always have smiles for him and treat him like a person.
Richard is from Trinidad and is one of sweetest men you will ever meet. He always has a kind word to say and has a deep love for Christ. Richard takes care of himself and dresses sharp. Our team has gotten to know him well and appreciate this man who is such a joy to be around. He encourages us in the work we do and let’s us know how much we are impacting the community. He ministers to us.
He told me that sometimes people literally spit on him while he tries to sleep.
Richard sleeps on the sidewalk each night next to a statue of Jesus, in front of a Catholic Church. He told me that sometimes people literally spit on him while he tries to sleep. That has got to be a hard feeling to shake, a hard prison to break out of. It reminds me of how Jesus was treated:
Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists.
My shame isn’t physically evident to people around me, but when I look in the mirror I see someone who is prone to lust, judging others, cowardly avoiding conflict, fearful of looking bad publicly, pretentiousness and laziness. I don’t like these things about myself. These are things that I don’t want to admit, but know are truth.
Becoming spiritually mature is not thinking of ourselves too highly-as better than others, but also not too lowly-as inferior to others. Whichever way we are skewed, we need Jesus to remove the scales from our eyes so that we can see ourselves clearly.
How do we escape this kind of crushing shame? We have a hero who can not only relate to us, but who can also break us out of this prison of shame:
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Although he didn’t deserve it, Jesus was covered with shame. He was crushed for us. Because he took our place, we can find peace and be healed.
I need not despise myself, when someone who knows that I am even worse than I think, loves me dearly. He watches me adoringly as I sleep at night whether I am sleeping on the sidewalk or a warm bed. He sees the good and the potential in me. He believes in me despite myself.
Although I am as guilty as the convicts in The Prison, my hero has broken me out of prison. Now it is my job to let others know they can be free too. Pass the word.
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