COMMENTARY: Even the worst are worth it
Daryl showed up at my friend's home carrying about thirty extra pounds and the weight of the world on his shoulders. Daryl was there to fix the malfunctioning cable. As he huff-and-puffed his way through the crooks and crannies of attics and crawl spaces, the mid-life tire roll he was wearing was obvious. The other weight -- the real weight -- took a bit longer to recognize.
When Daryl finished his work he said to my friend, "I noticed the Christian books in your office. Are you a minister?" And barely waiting for the answer, Daryl began unloading his weight pound by pound. My friend listened as Daryl spoke of his father's death, his financial struggles, and the eviction notice nailed to his apartment door.
Daryl finally unloaded his real baggage with the admission that he too was a pastor; at least that was what he used to be. An extramarital affair had ended that career posthaste, and he had been recently expelled from the church and lost his marriage. When Daryl finished, he gathered his burdens and moved on to the next service call.
My friend shared that story with me a few days ago, and when our conversation ended I flipped on my own cable box, Daryl's heaviness still hanging in the air. Greeting me on my flickering screen was Senator John Edwards, explaining his most recent legalities and apologizing profusely for a laundry list of well-publicized immoralities.
Daryl the Cable Guy and John the Senator have a lot in common, and it was more than a bit ironic that I heard their stories within seconds of each other. Both fouled up in a very public way. Both violated the trust that good people had placed in them. Both weaved their webs of deceit, harming those closest to them. And both stand in need of redemption.
That's a remarkable word, redemption. The Christian books on my own shelves tell me that redemption means "to buy." The word carries the idea of freeing a person who has been enslaved; cutting the chains that bind; lifting away the weights that one carries. Thus, anything -- or anyone -- worthy of redemption is exactly that: Worthy and worth the price.
All human beings, even those with abysmal moral records of failure, have worth. To God. To the greater community. To those they will come to love and love them. They can (and should) be redeemed because they have intrinsic value.
The objections at this point are obvious. Philandering preachers? Vile and despicable acts by national politicians? Redemption? You can't be serious! Well, people exactly like this seem to have been Jesus' best pals. Let it never be forgotten that the accusation the religious community always hurled against Jesus was that he "was a friend to sinners."
Prostitutes, tax collectors (easily substituted today with words like mafia or extortionists), Zealots (political radicals), lepers (the untouchables), oddballs, weirdoes, outsiders, and all manner of "notorious sinners" found a home in the presence of Christ. Can this same sordid bunch find a home in the congregations that carry Christ's name? After all, if these can't come to Jesus' house of love and grace, where else are they going to go?
I concede that redemption doesn't necessarily mean putting Daryl the Cable Guy back in a pulpit. The intoxicating authority found in such a position may be no good for him. John the Senator will likely never hold public office again -- and that's probably a good thing for him -- such offices are often more poisonous than profitable anyway.
But this does not change the fact that all of us sinners need safe, accessible communities of faith that will challenge our selfishness, point us to a hope-filled contrition, teach us what it means to love others and be loved by God and yes, redeem us.
It is impossible to know the hearts of Daryl, John, or a hundred-thousand souls just like them, but Jesus thought that those considered the worst transgressors were worth having an open heart toward. Maybe his church will think so as well.
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Ronnie McBrayer is the author of "Leaving Religion, Following Jesus." He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.