At The Edges

Some years ago a Protestant minister at an upscale church in Washington, D.C. took an unusual sabbatical. Instead of taking academic courses or professional workshops, he went to live anonymously for a year among the sizable homeless population in our nation's capital.

He never felt so insecure and vulnerable. Like other homeless people, he suffered blows to his self-esteem. "Normal" people on the street looked right through him as if he were invisible. Without all the "essential" comforts and conveniences of modern life, he learned to live day to day.

Eventually, in a small cluster of fellow homeless people who lived under an overpass, he found community. More than that, he found deep faith and hope such as he had never before experienced in his middle-class surroundings. People with nothing cared for each other and looked after one another. A year later, he returned to his church a changed man.

"Society and organized religion are like trees," he observed. "The center may appear strong, but it is dead. Life and growth happen only at the edges."

Jesus embodies this truth. God entered the physical universe on a miniscule planet in a remote corner of this galaxy. God became not a glorified angel but a fragile human. Jesus was born on the outer fringe of the Roman Empire in an insignificant village. Prior to his public ministry, Jesus spent forty days not praying in the Temple of Jerusalem but fasting and undergoing temptation in the wilderness. He dined with outcasts, lepers, tax collectors and sinners. He called blessed the poor, the meek, those who mourn.

The brokenhearted and powerless are closest to God, not because they are automatically holier than everyone else, but because they are vulnerable. This is why we take up the "option for the poor" to minister among the world's nobodies, not to bring God to them but to reflect back to them the God who dwells with them on the edge.

Lent calls us to leave our familiar comfort zone and enter our own wilderness of insecurities and vulnerability so as to rely not on our status or income but on God alone. Ultimately death will destroy all the creature comforts we hold essential. The Cross compels us to enter into the death of Jesus by giving up our own security and depending totally upon God, in whom alone we find true life.

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