Recently, on a late afternoon walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans, I considered that the place was like a microcosm of our world. Teeming with people of every nationality, speaking different languages, dressed in different ways; all against the backdrop of a destination that had appealed to them, one they had chosen.
It wasn’t yet Mardi Gras, but the regal purple, green and gold colors of the carnival marked nearly shop and restaurant. There was the spirit of ‘celebration’ in the air, along with the smells of food mixed with stale whiskey and garbage cans that hadn’t yet been emptied.
In the middle of it all, was St. Louis Cathedral, rising above the rest of the nostalgic iron work of lovely, old buildings. The church. A symbol of God on Earth.
As the shadows lengthened, and afternoon faded into night, more and more people appeared, walking the sidewalks of Bourbon Street; not after the shops, but the after-hours pleasure; a time when women hold onto their purses, and men gape into the strip-club doors to catch a glimpse of skin, and people pass the dark corners where those, often called grace-less, crouch like discarded, broken dolls. These broken, imperfect people, I pass by. I do not let my eyes meet theirs. I give them no notice at all—-out of fear? Or out of a smug superiority?
These are the people in the corners of life who, when they were born, may have been held in loving hands, or not. These are the people who may be prostitutes, drunks, drug-addicts, or thieves. These are the sort of people, these sinners, that Jesus called friends. They were created, as we all are, by a God who loved, and still loves, them. Yet they are here, huddled in the sometimes dim shadow of His church.
When I was young and turned up my nose at some people, my grandmother and mother, too, gave me a pointed warning: “There, but for the grace of God, go you.”
Can I see myself huddled in the corner of a dirty street? Can I see myself lost and afraid? Can I see myself being passed by as if I was a tossed-away scrap of garbage not worth anyone’s time? Most importantly, can I see myself as a sinner, too? Except, I am. And so is every person born in this world.
The good part is that we sinners are also children of God–and therefore, we have been given the ability to hope. I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. –Luke 15:10
The ability to hope comes from Grace. Some of us are fortunate enough to have easier lives. We don’t have to worry very often about the corners; and if we do, we get out of them quickly. But some cannot get out, or haven’t yet chosen to.
So, how much work and effort, blood, sweat and tears, does it take for people in the corners to change? How much effort will it take for us–the smug ones–to change as well?