It’s Holy Week and I want to tell a story related to its meaning, a true one, a story I recently told in a piece for an association at a Christian university. I think it’s worth repeating because of what is says about rescue, renewal, hope and love, and so please meet Joaquin, the assistant of a great handyman.
The handyman is an essential ingredient in maintaining the Ambrose household, and, as a cheerful sidekick, Joaquin has been exceptional at helping make restorative things happen. I am someone who loves to talk, have never shaken my reportorial urge to interview and thus discovered how Joaquin had for years helped to build houses, had done well and then experienced a crash.
He once came home, found a fellow with his girlfriend, got in a fight, then got into legal trouble and suffered major losses. Relying on the wisdom of an evangelical grandmother, he began to rebuild, and one of his efforts was at a charter school for students whose behavior had caused their ejection from other schools. He coached basketball and young, struggling guys there and sometimes wanted to reach beyond the secular advice the public school allowed on school time.
When the students were suicidal — and some were — Joaquin would also talk to them after school, sharing his Christian faith. He is convinced he saved lives.
Because of disagreements about the school’s operations, Joaquin left, but has still reached out to help the needy in a number of other ways. What impresses me most is what he and his wife do every Saturday.
They go to downtown Denver, a home, if you can call it that, for hundreds of the homeless. The two of them will sit down with someone who is in a sad, lonesome, wandering, unsheltered state and talk with the person, try to help him or her figure out an answer for life and give the person food. They also visit dollar stores to secure other odds and ends to aid the homeless in fundamental coping.
All of us know of people calling themselves Christians who do or have done horrible things, sometimes with little sign of regret. We know of hypocrites and religious opportunists, such as those who appear to confuse God with commercial success. We know of historical disgraces, such as the Inquisition and the devastating, long-lasting European religion wars. But then there are people like Joaquin who know that error can be corrected by grace and loving growth.
Though in many ways exceptional, he is not a lone wolf, and in fact we have a whole civilization that was mightily shaped by the force of this faith contending with other forces, reshaping so much that was evil while bestowing enormous good. This figure Jesus appeared and said the chief among you are those who serve. Love of God and neighbor are the foremost commandments. Care for the poor. Self-righteousness be gone. Acknowledge your transgressions, repent for them – that is, turn in a godly direction – and know newness of life.
During Holy Week, we see rituals in which his walk to the cross is understood as a spiritual path others can follow in different ways. In some churches, there is a washing of feet as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, a lesson in humility that helps others. We have Good Friday, the blackness of the crucifixion sacrifice, and then Easter, the resurrection that speaks to so many of joyous hope, of uplift, of rising high and in which all blooms anew. Theologically, there is much more, of course, but the non-religious who are also open-minded can surely see the power of a world-moving narrative and the moral good that has spread so far.
As a reminder of that good, I would point to my rescued friend Joaquin.