Besides the verses from Esther and Jesus’ teachings in Mark, the 5th chapter of the epistle of James is a focus scripture for today. In verses 19 -20 we find this counsel. (NRSV)
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20) you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s should from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Who has not wandered from the truth? Some have wandered so far that they end up in prison. What then? Often they are shunned, rejected and forgotten while behind bars and even when they are released. If there is a place at the table for everyone born, then these who have wandered are also included. Welcome, acknowledgment and human kindness will cover a multitude of sins.
Seventy Kent Parker once shared an experience of welcome and acceptance that has stayed in my thoughts for years. With his permission, the story goes something like this. Kent worked at a county office where one of his duties was to assist people with license renewals. One day a gruff looking and even gruffer sounding man approached the counter. “How can I help you?” Kent asked. Without looking up, the man said what he needed. He had to search his pockets for his old license. In his usual way, Kent tried to strike up a conversation. The man only scowled. Then when he handed over the old license, it was not just months but YEARS out of date. Surprised, Kent asked, “How did you get so behind?” The man mumbled, “Just got out of Fort Madison.” (home of the Iowa State Penitentiary) For a few seconds that must have felt like hours, Kent considered how to respond. Then he smiled, looked the man in the eye and said, “Welcome home.” This gruff wanderer exhaled audibly and a tear formed at the corner of his eye. Those two words, ‘welcome home’, changed the tone of the rest of the encounter. And though we can’t know for sure, I like to think those words of welcome made a difference even after he walked out the door.
May wanderers find words of welcome and a place at the table with us.