We measure our debts by the amount of money we owe to another person, money we’ve borrowed and never paid back. But debt is also something much deeper, something that we all carry.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we say “forgive our debts as we forgive those indebted to us.” John Howard Yoder reminds us of the importance of maintaining the “debts” language because it helps us keeps the very economic sense of Jubilee that is being described by this prayer.
This weekend, I was reminded of the debt I must be forgiven.
My dear friends at the Rutba House in Durham, NC have practiced welcoming the stranger for a long time. They truly believe that to welcome a stranger is to welcome Christ himself, a practice that has been carried on in Christian communities of various kinds ever since Jesus himself let us know that whatever we do unto the least of these our brethren we do as unto the Lord. I’ve written elsewhere that I believe that this practice of welcoming Jesus into their home over and over has made it a place where Christ feels at home and more readily resides. My friends there have taught me so much about this practice.
I would go so far as to say that the entire Gospel and message of the kingdom can be boiled down to a message about hospitality and welcoming. When we welcome the stranger, we are living in the kingdom because we have therefore welcomed Christ. To welcome Christ is to invite God’s reign on earth.
Recently, these friends did a risky thing. They’ve welcomed a young man who has had a rough existence to stay with them. More specifically, this man was shot at point-blank range a year ago and is now a quadriplegic. After he was shot, 8 months in a hospital bed led him to have gaping bed sores. Instead of roaming the streets as he did 13 months ago, he now lies in a hospital bed in my friends’ house where they take turns changing the bandages on his wounds each night.
When I lived in Durham 3 years ago, I met him a few times. My only memorable experience of him was driving him to work at a Pop-Eyes Chicken restaurant. While visiting in Durham this weekend, I helped another friend to change his bandages. While he lay there, I held his feet up and helped turn him as we spent the better part of an hour removing, cleaning, and changing the dressing for his wounds.
This experience was one of the more humbling things I’ve done in my entire life. I have never felt so blessed, not blessed for what I have by comparison, but blessed to have the honor to dress his wounds. I felt it an honor to be able to change his bandages. The room was a holy sanctuary and I knew Jesus was lying in that bed. I felt it so tangibly, so truly, so fully. There before me was the broken body of our Lord, poorly disguised. As I stood holding one foot and then another, I experienced a profound sense that I was in his debt and needed forgiveness. It is said of St. Francis that he would beg forgiveness of those whom he served. It sounds noble and maybe a bit mystical, but I understood exactly why in those moments. The humiliation, the forced reliance on the charity and good will of others; this is indeed the nature of our indebtedness to much of humanity. For the homeless men who beg on the streets, for the families who wait for hours in line for food stamps and social services, for so many people around the world who have been given no choice but to turn to us for assistance, we are indebted. As we serve those in need, it is we who must ask for forgiveness and release, for indeed, how could we ever repay such a debt as dressing the wounds of Christ himself? The awe and reverence for this body of Jesus offers to us far more than we could repay. No, we must ask for forgiveness from this debt.
I was truly mystified by my gut reaction. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I could only whisper thanksgivings for the gift. And I don’t think it could have happened without my friends who have chosen to welcome Christ in all of his distressing disguises. Jean Vanier said that when he welcomed two men with severe mental disabilities into his home, it was an “irreversible act.” I believe my friends have committed such another act, an act with reverberating effects that will only deepen with time.
To help repay a little of that debt, my friends are helping George to enter a contest to win a handicap-driveable van so that he can drive himself and gain some independence. Please, take a moment to watch his video and vote for him (Use the promo code “963″ to multiply your initial vote times five.).
Here’s an excerpt from Jonathan’s blog about what’s going on:
After working hard in rehab, George came home to stay with us at Rutba House in early February of this year. With good medical care, determination, and the patient love of lots of friends, he’s made steady progress–getting out of bed, learning to use a wheel chair, even hoisting himself in and out of our family van. But all along, George has maintained, “I’m gonna drive.”
I believe he will. But here’s the exciting news: you can help make it happen. For National Mobility Awareness Month, there’s a contest. Three people will win a fully equipped, handicap accessible van. And the winners will be determined by the number of votes that each nominee gets by May 13th.
1) Click here to Vote for George. (Use the promo code “963″ to multiply your initial vote times five.)
2) Share this. Email it. Tweet it. Post it to Facebook. Holler at everyone in your office and ask them to help.
3) Vote Early, Vote Often. We’re getting a late start, but you can vote once every 24 hours until May 13th.
George thinks I’m a little crazy for thinking we can win this. And maybe I am. But if I’ve learned anything in our life here at Rutba House, it’s that the unimaginable is possible when people come together in the power of love.
As a matter of fact, that’s the only thing that makes our life here possible.
I’m glad for this chance to invite you to join us.
May God give us all the grace to welcome Christ with such love. As much as a I’m indebted to George, I am also indebted to the Rutba House, such dear friends who have passed along to me a deeper wisdom through their hospitality than they could ever know.