I see them as I pull my dirty ten year-old Honda Civic into the church parking lot. Two high school boys shooting hoops in our backlot. I grin. It’s a beautiful 74 degree day with no clouds in the sky, and my friends from the neighborhood are already showing up to enjoy it. I join them, challenging their shots and trying to steal the ball from them. They simply laugh and allow me to do my thing. No awkward attempts at forced conversation. Just three players: two young guns–both freshman–and me.
Younger kids begin arriving: a couple of middle-schoolers; numerous little children also, from preschool to elementary. They are followed by moms and dads, all of them from the local community. I look at the crowd which disperses across the church playground and parking lot.
I love them.
The dad with the hurting foot, yet still a sweet jump shot and pesky cigarette habit. The little girls with darling hairdos and deep curiosity as to whether the two hens which had broken out of their neighboring pen into our playground might be good play companions. The Muslim mom who always carefully monitors her youngest children. Every one of them.
Compassion fills my heart.
Not pity. Not an ill-advised messianic complex. Just a simple empathy and love which flows from the heart of Jesus. And a recognition that I am no different than them. I hurt. I bleed. I hope. Just as they do. And maybe their acceptance of me owes itself to this fact. Doing life in the margins requires time and presence with no other agenda except to love in the way of Jesus. And a willingness to be marginalized by cultural gatekeepers, both ecclesial and secular.