“Then I read that Jesus was a friend of sinners. This still bothers me. Not because Jesus was a friend of sinners (because that came in really handy in my case). It bothered me because if I’m trying to live like Jesus, that means I’m supposed to be a friend of sinners too.”
― Dillon Burroughs,
Maybe the whole world is brimming with rough-cut trenches.
Have I spent too long on the ridges in between? Or am I a friend of sinners?
My God stepped into the trenches and touched lepers with open, running sores. He blessed the faith and tears of dark-eyed prostitutes. His hand dipped into meals with the dusty, money-rubbing hands of hardened thieves. He frequented the places that the Religious Right of the day called inappropriate and sinful. He had a band of ragamuffins: fisherman, half-breed Samaritans, government workers, wives, radical freedom fighters, women of the night, peasants.
But I do not have to find a leper colony, a brothel, or a gang of bank robbers to get in the trenches. Yes, those are needy trenches indeed. But that is not the idea.
Trenches are everywhere, crisscrossing the whole earth. And people are in those trenches–needy, hurting, growing, sinning people.
People just like you and me.
Some of them have Jesus. Some of them don’t.
Some of them have hope. Some of them can’t stand to think that the sun might come up again.
Some of them wear Prada and shop on New York’s 5th Avenue. Some of them wear Levis and push a cart at Wal-Mart. Some of them wear second-hand rags and dig in the dumpster for scraps.
Find them. There is a trench beside you. Get in it and see what you find.
See who you find.
Verda is in one of my trenches–an 83-year-old nursing home resident, hard of hearing and frail body swollen with excess fluid. She wiggled her finger at me, and soon I was kneeling beside her wheelchair, praying and clutching her bony fingers.
Jake is in a nearby trench–just a boy, a teenage boy I don’t even know, but his half-sister goes to my church. See, Jake is in ICU today. He shot or sniffed or smoked so much at once that his body began to shut down from a drug overdose. Is he living or dying right now? I only pray he will have one last chance to hear that there is hope. And maybe, just maybe, he will live to tell of a Redeemer.
Brent is in one of my trenches, strong and growing stronger in every way. I was put into his trench by Divine arrangement. See, he is my brother. Even brothers have trenches, and even brothers have needs and prayers and growing pains. But the good thing about being a brother is that there is someone else born right in your trench, right in your family, ready-made to do trench warfare on your behalf. That is why I am here–to fight for him, beside him, in the trench.
Destiny is in a trench nearby. Maybe 9 or 10 years old, on ADD medication, Mormon by family choice, living with her grandmother because her mother, for whatever reason, just couldn’t handle raising her. And she’s picking up a violin for the second semester. So every two weeks, I get to kneel by her and show her how to coax a song out of piece of wood and a bundle of horse hair. And maybe I get to show her a little love that she doesn’t get too often.
My friend Lizzie told me this:
“No one can prepare you for the ways this [getting in the trenches] changes you. If any of these encounters are NOT something, they are not heroic. They are not inspiring. They are not dramatic.
But. If God calls you to those trenches, in whatever field He chooses, you will bury your hands in the same dirt as He.”
Yes. I will be sinking my fingers into the same dirt, maybe writing mercy in it for the scarred and wandering, just as He did (John 8:6).
The point is not to find a glamorous trench, or an especially dark and dirty trench, or even a new trench. The point is that if you are walking on the ridges instead of getting down in the middle of life–where people and problems and pain are, you can’t be living like Jesus.
Because Jesus didn’t stay up safe on a plain above us.
He got down and got dirty, stripped away His heavenly beauty and invulnerability, and became one of us. Subject to our temptations. Exposed to cold, hunger, homelessness, misunderstanding.
I can’t NOT go into the trenches. Whether my trench tomorrow is new or old, a nursing home or my own kitchen, a violin class or an unexpected counseling session, a women’s prison or a road trip with my brother, I’m surrounded by trenches calling me to come to the battle.
So I will go. Not armed with hate for the sinner. Not looking for sensation and easy fixes. Truly, and blessedly, overflowing with love that can’t wait to get out and see what God will do with a life that belongs to Him.
When I’m rubbing Verda’s swollen ankles or showing Destiny just where to put her fingers on the violin string, something happens.
The cares and worries and tiny, unnecessary, meaningless chaff of my life drift away and I realize what I was made to do:
Be a friend of sinners, pointing them to their Ultimate Friend.
In whatever trench I happen to find myself.
“ ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ These men without possessions or power, these strangers on Earth, these sinners, these followers of Jesus, have in their life with him renounced their own dignity, for they are merciful. As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation of others. They have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety. They go out and seek all who are enmeshed in the toils of sin and guilt. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity. If any man falls into disgrace, the merciful will sacrifice their own honour to shield him, and take his shame upon themselves.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer,