Stay Within the Margins

I remember in school, especially the early years when I was learning to write that it was important to stay in the margins on the notebook paper.  I don’t know if I understood what the word “margins” meant, but I did recognize I was not supposed to write past the vertical lines that went down the side of the paper.  Sometimes these lines were even a different color than the lines you wrote on.  I didn’t question it because that was the rule.  Somebody knew better than me so I didn’t cross the margin lines.

As I grew up older into my days of youth, I also learned there were margins in life that I shouldn’t cross as they could be places of trouble and danger.  Thus, there were parts of downtown that I should avoid and certain kinds of people who could be dangerous.  There were no red lines painted across town as warnings, but I had been conditioned to know where the margins were and to stay safely behind them.  Some places and some people simply could not be trusted.  Margins kept me in my place and others in their place.

In the days of Jesus, margins had been established in the Jewish religion that were there to keep you right with God and keep you from getting involved with those who might somehow affect your relationship with God.  So there were margins.  Margins between Jews and Gentiles, men and women, clean and unclean, healthy and infirmed, righteous and sinners.  These clear distinctions were there to guide you as you journeyed through your life.

But then Jesus showed up and didn’t pay attention to the margins.  Now Jesus knew the margins that existed, he just refused to write the story of his life within the margins.  As a result, Jesus crossed the margins and entered into encounters with women, Gentiles, the sick, the unclean, and even the sinners as they had been labeled.  Jesus simply disregarded the historical markers that had been set up over generations.  And as we can imagine, not everybody was happy with Jesus, but especially those who sought to maintain the margins.  Thus, Jesus was constantly condemned for going to the wrong places and hanging out with the wrong people.  Didn’t Jesus know that if he lived outside the margins then it meant he was saying that those people on the other side of the margins were equal to those who stayed on the right side of the margins?  Jesus’ answer was yes.  That is exactly what he was saying.

For Jesus, in the Kingdom of God, there are no margins or boundaries or borders that separate people into categories of worth and value.  Rather, Jesus saw the infinite worth of every individual even those who had been written off by society.  Jesus would not live within the margins because he knew that God’s love had no margins.  God’s love could not be sectioned off like a city block.  Rather God’s love was lavish and flowed in every direction.  Every person mattered to Jesus.  But he also knew that some lives didn’t matter as much in his day, and as a result, he stepped beyond the margins to where the forgotten and ignored had been left for so long.  And when those inside the margins began to say, “what about us” Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matthew 9: 12).  Like a medic on the battlefield, Jesus saw the greatest need and that is where he went.  Those on the margins needed a friend and the good news of God’s love right then, right there.

God invites us to live outside the margins of our world.  It is so easy to grow comfortable and complacent in the safety of the margins with others just like ourselves.  It is easy to think that if those people on the other side of the margins would just get their lives together they would be welcomed where we are.  This is not the way of Jesus nor should it be the way of his followers.  Like Jesus, we are called to cross the margins, work to remove the boundaries that have been there so long, and offer God’s love and grace to all people.

Unlike teachers who checked our papers to see if we stayed within the margins and graded us accordingly when we stand before God at the judgment, God will not look for a nice, tidy, safe life story, but a story that was willing to be lived outside the margins where the greatest needs were.  For when we minister to the “least of these” we will have ministered unto Jesus himself.  (Matthew 25: 40)  I am guilty at times of staying safe behind the margins.  However, I pray every day that God will give me a greater vision to see the world as God sees it; a wide-open world where there are no margins, but only people to be loved.




Published by Dr. Philip W. Turner

Since 1991 I have had the joy of serving as Pastor of Pine Street Baptist Church in the community of Oregon Hill in Richmond, Virginia. The people I have met a long the way have inspired me in my daily ministry. I have truly been blessed.

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