“My name is Jerry,” he said with a strong southern Louisiana accent, “but most people call me Junior.” His smile was genuine, almost childlike, and bore the truth of decades of neglect.
“My name is Lisa,” I said, as we shook hands on my front porch. Junior’s aged, wiry frame and gentle demeanor were disarming. He and I went quickly from strangers to neighbors.
“Do you have any work for me?” he inquired. “I can sweep your porch and sidewalk,” he continued.
“No, Junior, I think the porch and sidewalk are okay today,” I responded with what felt like a noticeable lack of confidence.
“Well, that’s okay, Ms. Lisa. I’ll be back again soon. I just was gonna run to the store and get some Buglers. It’s nice to know you. I’ll see you again.” Junior rode off contentedly on his bike, while I remained curious and cautious on my porch.
Junior was one of my first and best teachers at loving my neighbor. At the time, I was living in downtown Fresno directing an urban program for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Junior was well-known and loved by the many cycles of students and interns that came through the program. Multiple times a week, Junior would come asking for work and money. Honestly, I often tired of his impromptu knocks at my door that felt like disruptions to the important work I had to do, of training students to be ministers in the inner city and writing fundraising letters to donors.
One day, still early in my time there on L Street in downtown Fresno, I saw Junior riding up on his bicycle and stepping onto the porch. It was just after Thanksgiving, so even though I was busy with my ministry tasks, I was ready to generously offer the leftovers I had in the fridge and send him on his way. When Junior knocked on the door, I answered and we exchanged greetings. Instead of asking for food or money, as was his custom, he made a very unusual request. “Do you have a razor?” Perplexed at his unique request, I must have stuttered momentarily. “Uh, a razor? Like to shave with?” I muttered.
“Yes, a razor for shaving,” he kindly responded.
What about the abundance of food I was ready to give? Why wasn’t he asking for what I wanted to share? Why my razor? I had kind of splurged and gotten a nice one, and I didn’t particularly feel like sharing it. All these thoughts were on a collision course with the passage I had read from James earlier that morning:
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?...