By Missy Davis
Despite my years of following Jesus, on most days I feel like there is still so much to know about him, so many ways I do not follow Him or see Him fully. Of course this is sanctification, and this is the process of change. Many imperfect days filled with grace.
However, there are some things that I do know, and this is one of them: Jesus loved the outcast. The marginalized. The ugly. He loved Samaritans, adulterous women, lepers, tax collectors. These people were the ugly of his society.
I recently read Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, and perhaps one of the reasons that it affected me deeply was because it opened my eyes to what can happen in the lives of people who are rejected in our society. The mentally ill. The abused. The abandoned. The disabled. The convict.
Stevenson’s book details several people’s stories of incarceration. Some of them were imprisoned when they were only teenagers living on the street. Some of them suffered from depression or mental illness due to abuse. A few of these stories are of innocent people who were not just convicted, but sent to death row. The stories are harrowing. They will make you angry and sad and burdened and overwhelmed. They need to be heard.
The book affected me mainly in three ways. One, I am glad I know now what I did not know before. I am grateful that I have a bit more of a glimpse (though an incomplete and imperfect one) of what some people in our society have dealt with or are dealing with. I am glad that I know that our justice system is far from perfect. I want there to be more justice in our world, and I do not want to be naive in simply hoping it will be so. Now I know more than what I knew before, and I think this matters.
Secondly, I am grateful for this magnifying glass on the lives of those who are outcast in our world. To be honest, I do not think much about these people. I have not made space in my life for those whom our society considers the lowest. And this is convicting to me. This is something I will sit with. It is something I will pray over. It is something I hope will be different in my life moving forward.
Thirdly, I was convicted that Jesus cared quite deeply for the rejects in the world. He still does. He loves these folks in a way that is powerful and breathtaking. He loved the rich and accepted as well. But I do believe that Biblically, the Lord has always had a particular affection for those whom society cares little for. I do want to be more like Jesus. So I must consider how I will love in the way he does.
It is not just the poor and outcast who are broken. Especially at Easter we consider how we are all broken. One of my favorite parts of Stevenson’s book is a section where he comes to the understanding that he is just as broken as his clients–even though they are behind bars and he is a successful lawyer.
“For the first time I realized that my life was just full of brokenness. I worked in a broken system of justice. My clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, and anger. I thought of Joe Sullivan and of Trina, Antonio, Ian, and dozens of other broken children we worked with, struggling to survive in prison. I thought of people broken by war, like Herbert Richardson; people broken by poverty, like Marsha Colbey; people broken by disability, like Avery Jenkins. In their broken state, they were judged and condemned by people whose commitment to fairness had been broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice.
It took me a while to sort it out, but I realized something sitting there while Jimmy Dill was being killed at Holman prison. After working for more than twenty-five years, I understood that I don’t do what I do because it’s required or necessary or important. I do it because I have no choice.
I do what I do because I’m broken too” (Stevenson 288-289).
Indeed, this is the gospel: we are all broken. We are all in need of a savior to redeem us.
I recommend Stevenson’s book for this reason: it will stir up a desire to live more in line with the gospel. You will be moved to compassion for the lowly in our society. It will push you to remember that, without Jesus, you are as ugly as the basest person in our world, and that with Jesus, the convicted murderer is as righteous as Christ Himself.