I thank Tom Felten, editor of Our Daily Journey, for bringing this intriguing story to our attention.
When 19-year-old Brady was making his final pizza delivery of the night, three young men interrupted him at gunpoint. They robbed him and then pistol-whipped him. Brady suffered a head wound that required seventy stitches. It also had other ramifications, including three long and difficult years of physical therapy for post-concussion syndrome and losing his chance for a basketball scholarship that would have paid his way through college.
Fast-forward six years. Brady and his best friend, M.T., hang out together all the time. They are as close as brothers, probably closer than some. They’re there for one another and with one another. M.T. used to belong to a gang and, as such, was one of the teenagers who robbed and nearly killed Brady in 2009, one of the boys who took away Brady’s chance to play college basketball. But Brady is a follower of Jesus. He takes seriously all those difficult things Jesus taught, like “Love your enemies,” and “Forgive not seven times but seventy times seven.” So, once he was physically able to do so Brady reached out to M.T., extending forgiveness and friendship. In fact, M.T. credits Brady for helping him to finish high school and to leave gang-life behind. M.T. says that the man whose life he almost took helped him find life worth living.
Paul, who attacked Christians, led them to prison, and was an accomplice in the murder of St. Stephen, wrote of Jesus: “While we were yet sinners, He gave His life for ours.” In other words, Jesus saw us at our worst but still saw in us the best that we might yet be. And He gave everything to help us realize that divine potential.
I am challenged when I read of a love so strong as Brady’s that had the power to befriend and transform M.T. I am likewise challenged when I consider the unconditional love of Jesus, a love so strong that it was willing to give everything to reach out to and transform someone like Paul... or like me. The challenge is: So am I ready to share transforming love with someone else? To whom should I reach out with patience, compassion, or understanding – even if that someone doesn’t make it easy? In a day of suspicion and polarization, it’s impossible to truly be a disciple of Jesus while holding people at arm’s length. Isn’t that what we read in I John? “Whoever says he loves God but hates his neighbor is a liar.” Strong words, but true.
Maybe a faithful Advent commitment for all of us to make this year would be: I will make room in the manger of my heart for whomever needs it. At least by making the effort to set love into action, whether or not it is reciprocated, we have taken an important step toward creating a safer, better kind of world. By refusing to take that step, we vote to keep the sort of world that has us frightened.