By WALTER ALBRITTON
A man came off the street into my study one day, having asked to “see the preacher.” His appearance was so bad I did not ask him to sit down. His smell was unsettling and I was busy with “church work.” Impatiently I asked, “Can I help you?” His reply was not what I expected.
“Pastor,” he said wearily, “I hope you can. I am not here to ask for money or food or a place to stay. I can sleep in my old car again tonight. What I need is hope. I am at the end of my rope. I am willing to work if I can find a job. I am desperate to find someone who will believe in me, trust me and help me make a new start.”
The man seemed so genuine that I asked him to sit down. We talked for an hour and I prayed with him, asking the Lord to give him hope for a new life. I found him a place to spend the night, made a few phone calls and found him a job. Given a chance, he began to earn his keep and slowly made a comeback. We stayed in touch and within a few years the man had become a respected member of the community and a devout Christian.
Four years after his first visit, he came to see me again. He recalled the day we first talked.
“That day, I was so distraught that I had decided to kill myself if you had turned me away, as so many others had already done,” he said. “But you saved my life by taking an interest in me. You gave me the hope to hold on for another day. And God helped me to make a new life for myself.”
Then he embraced me with a hug I have never forgotten.
My experience with that man led me to reflect on the many times I had failed to offer mercy to strangers who smelled like he did. I thanked God for opening my eyes and asked forgiveness for the times I had offered judgment instead of mercy to people who needed hope more than a handout.
I began to understand better what Saint Paul meant when he said to his Christian friends in Rome, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
This verse, Romans 15:7, is translated in several ways. Another says, “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Yet another, “Receive one another, then, as Christ has received you.”
How does Christ accept, or welcome, or receive me? He offers me mercy. Not condemnation or judgment. When Christ opens His arms to receive me, saying “Come to me,” he is offering me mercy that is clothed in hope for my future.
So how can I reduce the strife in our society, the strife that robs us of the harmony and civility we so desperately need? By offering my brothers and sisters, in the living of these days, mercy, not judgment. So shall we find our way to live together in peace.