My friend is not a wealthy woman. In fact she has lived most of her life teetering on the edge of poverty. She’s been a social worker, owned a restaurant, tried to make a go in the antique business, and now serves as the Christian education director for a local church. Last year her hours, and income, were cut in half. When you cut a church salary in half there isn’t much left. However, she has been able to live at below market rent in a church owned house, and that helps.
What I find most interesting about her is her natural ability to attract a ragtag community of misfits for whom she provides a home. I don’t mean a place to live, although every bed in her house is always filled; I mean a place of warm welcome for those who are not warmly welcomed in polite company. Her household is a menagerie of characters that would stretch Damon Runyon’s imagination. Yesterday I visited one of them in a local nursing home where he is probably dying of esophageal cancer. A brilliant man whose depth of knowledge encompasses most of the ancient philosophers, a few of the more recent ones and a smattering of theology from a dozen religious traditions. He’s also struggled with drugs, mental illness and life just barely off the street. A little later I got a call about another one. He had just died after a difficult life of early promise, personal failure, drug abuse, prison, homelessness, rehab and kidney failure. In the last six years or so he reestablished his sobriety, hoped for a transplant and began to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.
I got to thinking about where my friend’s human menagerie might fit in God’s household and was struck by two episodes in John’s gospel. One is Nicodemus’ nighttime visit with Jesus and the long conversation they shared. The other is Jesus’ midday visit to the well of Jacob and the long conversation he had with the Samaritan woman. In a metaphorical sense they establish boundary markers for God household. One end is anchored by the educated, wealthy and powerful elite. The other end is anchored by the most public sinner among those who are the most reviled. Both are included in God’s household. Neither would be welcome in the other’s household.
My friend’s is a household of cultural lepers. It is often noisy, chaotic and lacking in social graces. It’s also a beacon of God’s redeeming love. Thanks be to God.