In Jesus’ day, the people considered tax collectors the lowest of the low of humanity. They were paid commissions on what they collected for the Romans and, as a result, had a reputation of being horribly cruel.
The scriptures say, “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I had a mentor for twenty-five years of my life, Brooks Fleig, who consistently chased after broken people—the worst of the worst. If someone seemed like a totally lost cause, Brooks was determined to show them Christ.
In 1993, Brooks was the chaplain for the Sulphur Police Department in my hometown and the pastor of a local church. Anytime a stranger came through town needing help, someone approached the church with a specific need, or folks came to the police station in some emotional distress, Brooks got a call.
It could be a family traveling down Interstate 10, and they ran out of gas in our city. A single mom that couldn’t pay her electric bill. Children whose parents had died and there was no money to bury them. Need after need, Brooks would hear them out every day and do his best to find someone or something to help. He would also pray for everybody on the spot if they allowed him – a beautiful subject for another essay.
I left organized religion when I was thirty-three. One of my spiritual gifts is that of giving. After leaving the church, I needed to find a new place to contribute resources to Divine work. The scripture says that when you give, it should be done in secret – don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. With this in mind, I came up with a new idea for my contributions.
I started depositing my tithes and offerings in an account that only Brooks controlled. I told him to meet every need presented to him that he felt was genuine without ever consulting me. Very simple – I deposited the money, and he spent it. Thus an incredible ministry was born.
Brooks went to the local funeral parlors and made deals with them for low-cost burials and cremations. He went to hometown doctors and dentists and got them to give ultra-low rates for treating folks with no means. He negotiated every penny he could in order to meet as many needs as possible.
I owned a computer store at the time, and digital cameras hadn’t even hit one megapixel. I had given one to Brooks, and he carried it with him everywhere. As needs starting coming in, Brooks began to meet them, and at the same time, he would ask every person or group if he could take their photo. He would then email me the photos with a word or phrase saying what need had been met.
I got so many different kinds of photos: A family standing in front of a house that looked like it was about to fall over with a caption that read “electric bill.” Folks lying in coffins at the funeral home. A young man and “money for school.” Drug addicts with the words “abscessed tooth.” A mom and a bunch of kids with the phrase “Travelling through – needed gas, hot meal, and a shower.” An empty living room and “there was a suicide – needed money to get through.” Never any names.
I was a stressed-out, work-a-holic at the time, and you couldn’t have told me otherwise. Just like clockwork, whenever I was feeling shitty for whatever reason, one of these photos would arrive in my email. Or Brooks would show up at my office, show me the photo on the camera and say, “Remember what matters.” Those pictures always could jerk me out of the materialism and back to the reality of service. I’m crying now, writing this, remembering them, and remembering Him.
One night I was visiting Brooks’ church that was full of poor people (as a church should be). During the “meet and greet” time, Brooks introduced me to a man who had been an addict and lost all his teeth. I had seen him in a photo months before after Brooks had helped him get dentures. The man told me with tears running down his face about how Jesus had changed his life. Moreover, he couldn’t believe that someone who didn’t know him, an addict, would pay for his new false teeth! I also wept as I heard his testimony. He who has been forgiven much loves much.
Jesus taught Brooks to love broken people, and then Brooks taught me how to do it. Some saints will tell you “only associate with holy people.” But that’s not for me. Jesus leaves the ninety-nine behind to go and find that one hopeless case and fill them with faith. My mentor knew how to love everybody no matter what. If they were marginalized, he loved them with even more fervor. I’m still living every moment in the wake of his wisdom.
It’s what you do unto the “least of these,” the lowest caste, the most down-and-out, that matters the utmost in the kingdom of heaven and brings the greatest reward. If I love people who are like me, what credit is that to me? NOTHING! It’s sacrificing for the “unloveable” that purifies the heart! It’s knowing you were the vessel for God’s work that provides the most satisfying feeling.
I had a computer crash long ago and lost those photos. But I still have memories of all the miracles that Brooks’ facilitated. Let me encourage you to be secretly generous. Go after the fractured and down-trodden. The Lord who sees what you are doing in confidence will reward you accordingly with miracle memories of your own.
“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” – Jesus