“Ramón is a scoundrel and deserves to die. He’s an exploiter. He’s lived his life at the expense of others. He’s arrogant. He’s selfish. He’ll take advantage of you. The fact that he’s let his diabetes rage out of control and that it’s killing him slowly, humiliating him… It’s everything he’s earned. Let him die and do the neighborhood a favor.”This statement is the summation of what many of Ramón’s neighbors and acquaintances think about him and his current health condition. Ramón is circling the drain due to unmanaged diabetes. He has, until the last few months, been circling it by himself. I know Ramón. He is a scoundrel. You can’t hear the intonation in my writing to hear that when I state that I write it as a certain term of endearment. I’ve known Ramón. He was our landlord for the brief 6 months we lived in the Dominican back in ’05. He’s all of the things his critics have claimed but I always loved him through his arrogance, machismo and swagger. He was and is just another spiritual orphan made in God’s image. He’s only ignorant of the implications of such a gift, to be so made. He need only be reminded again and again and again… until he hears it in such a way that it begins to get traction in his heart.
Since we moved back to the Dominican in June of 2013 I’d lost track of Ramón. I saw him here and there but he no longer lived with his wife; they were separated (no doubt due to him being a scoundrel, again, written with affection). I knew he was in poor health but not the severity. But I found him again, in the most unexpected of places. I found him in the GO Seminary of the Americas where I am teaching and developing a program with a team of Dominicans and North Americans to better equip local leaders to engage more faithfully the mission of Jesus in their own culture(s). Ramón was not there in class. But Pablo was.
Pablo is what you’d call a non-traditional student. He’s an older gentlemen who has started co-leading a Celebrate Recovery program in the nearby Central Church since he started the Seminary (that’s a Gospel centered 12 step program reaching out to those struggling with varieties of addictions). During our Incarnational Ministry and Strategies class we were discussing the importance of taking redemptive ownership over our neighborhoods, seeking to be responsible to meet the needs we saw around us rather than ignoring them or waiting for others to do it. Pablo raised his hand. “My wife and I have started caring for a neighbor who is very sick. Could we as a class go pay him a visit and maybe assess his situation?”
The next day during our lunch break, as a class, we walked the 6-8 blocks to where this man was staying. We brought him lunch. We had a nurse from our medical clinic go with us and we walked in the door. There, in a wheel chair, sat Ramón. This once proud rooster of a man, sat before us in the humiliation of the consequences of not caring for his illness. He had bleeding ulcers on one of his ankles. The other had terrible scarring from a previous infection. His blood pressure was out of control as was his blood sugar. Because he’s neglected his own care, the diabetes has taken his sight from him. This compounds all of his other issues because now he cannot tell which medicines to take when, what time it is or what the proper medication or dosage is. He. Is. A. Mess. Here, near the end, he is the material culmination of his life’s spiritual poverty and he is alone. Rather, he was alone… until Pablo and his wife took on the responsibility of taking care of a neighbor who was formerly a stranger.
Since this day of my reunion with Ramón weeks ago, his health has somewhat improved. He’s been made more comfortable. Pablo has organized his medicines in such a manner that he knows when and what to take and where it is. Last week, 4 of our Seminary students asked to be excused from part of their afternoon class. Ramón needed a blood transfusion and here you have to find your own donor. They wanted to go to the hospital to see if they were a match. This was possible because of Pablo’s advocacy.
Today in our Incarnational class we were discussing Micah 6:8: “You know, humanity, what the LORD requires of you, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God.” We were discussing the implications of mercy, the difference between simply showing mercy and actually loving it. You see one can show mercy while still hating or resenting the recipient of that mercy. One can show mercy and still feel superior to the one receiving it. In fact, one can hate mercy and still offer mercy.
Pablo raises his hand. He says, “Last week when I asked my classmates to go to the hospital I also called a dear friend who is a Christian. I asked her to go to the hospital too to give blood. She refused and then she scolded me. She told me that I should not be doing this for this man, that he was wicked and is getting what he deserves, that I should just let him be and suffer the consequences of the terrible life he chose for himself… that I needed to look out for myself, that the public hospital is filthy and full of bacteria and that I’m putting myself in danger for a man that deserves to suffer the consequences he earned.” I watched a single tear from each of his eyes roll down each of his cheeks as he shared. This woman, a Christian, failed to recognize the implications of the Gospel and so responded unfaithfully. He knew it and this was why he was sharing. He was as grieved for her as he was for Ramón who was receiving her condemnation rather than mercy. She didn’t love mercy yet and because of this she would not show it.
But when you love mercy… you can’t help but express mercy. The resources for this kind of mercy reside in knowing and loving Jesus. Mercy is not just a “what,” it is also a “Who.” Jesus Christ is the Mercy of God for all of humanity. Pablo has made that mercy his own after having received it himself. When Pablo looks at Ramón and what he has come to be, he sees himself without Jesus, like we all should who name ourselves “Christian.” Indeed, the only difference between Ramón and Pablo is that Pablo has responded to the mercy of Jesus. Why would Pablo want Ramón to suffer what Pablo himself also deserves but was spared because of God’s grace? He doesn’t. And so he, like Jesus, draws close and pours himself out for the so-called undeserving, putting himself at risk so that his neighbor might be made new. We have not had final exams in this class but by his actions Pablo has already shown that he has mastered the course and it’s material. He is himself a picture ofJesus… and I presume to be his teacher? We are brothers serving a common King, nothing more and nothing less. His love and mercy are a blessing and encouragement to me. I hope they are to you too and that you’ll find your own Ramones and respond as one that loves Mercy, both the Person and the practice.
From one scoundrel to another.