Mr. Finley set down his Bible. “Class, I have a challenge for you.”
Tommy Grover snuck a look at me and creased his forehead. Many times our Sunday School teacher reminded us of the infamous Ms. Frizzle from those old science books. I slunk down and fumbled with a pencil in silent dread.
“You know the bum down on the corner of North Street and Main?” Mr. Finley looked at us with a smirk. If there’s one thing we all knew, it was about Harry, the “town loser” as he was known. This was no poor man looking for a handout. This was a boozer, a drug addict, and a former convict. If anyone deserved to be demoted to begging, it was Harry.
Bennie in the back spoke up first. “Yeah, we know him, Mr. Finley! He’s such a loser!”
“Yeah, no worries about us, Mr. Finley. We’re not gonna turn out like him.” Tommy decided to add to the dialog.
“You should hear what my dad says about him,” laughed Stephen.
I kept out of it. Something about Mr. Finley’s expression didn’t sit right with me.
While pacing back and forth in front of our table of seventh graders, Mr. Finley listened to the comments being made. He even encouraged the interaction giving tidbits of what he knew about Harry as well.
Nerves, I’ll admit it, got the better of me. Before I knew what happened, I blurted out, “So what’s the challenge, Mr. Finley?”
“So glad you asked Daniel.” Mr. Finley leaned against the wall and looked us straight in the eyes. “I want you to give everything you have to Harry.”
Silence. Gulps. Gasps. My head spun toward Tommy and saw his mouth hang open so far drool slipped out. Little Sally in the corner sniffed loudly. Chairs creaked as feet shuffled under the table.
Tommy found his voice first. “Are you crazy, Mr. Finley? He doesn’t deserve anything! He’s made such a mess of his life!”
Mr. Finley nodded, “I realize that.”
“He wouldn’t need to beg if he just worked like everyone else. He’s lazy. He, he, he needs to learn his lessons like my parents tell me I have to,” Billy stated.
“Mr. Finley, you’re just messin with us, aren’t you?” I stammered. “You don’t really want us to do this, right?”
“Well class, Harry needs food, clothes, a bike to get around town on, warm blankets, and many other essentials, and I feel we should be the ones to give him those things. We’ll make a list of all we own and give it to him. He can then take what he wants, when he wants, from what we have.”
“No.” Billy said.
Sally wiped her red nose. “I’ll have to ask my parents, Mr. Finley. We can just make a small list, right? We don’t have to put everything on it.”
I felt pressure at that point. Someone had to speak up and say what we all thought. “Mr. Finley.” I rose to my feet. “I think I speak for all of us when I say we don’t feel this is right. Harry doesn’t deserve our help. I think we might even make it easier for him to continue in his life of crime and destruction if we do this. He needs to suffer for his decisions. We’re sorry.”
A collective sigh went up from the room as the kids turned to me with appreciative glances. I smiled inside thinking my parents might be on the right track after all with the whole lawyer idea.
“What about grace?” Mr. Finley said like I hadn’t even spoken. “God grants you grace. God doesn’t give you what you deserve.”
The air in the room changed.
“He gave everything when He gave His son to die on the cross to take what you deserve away from you. And then He gave you a list jam-packed with wisdom and life lessons. The Bible is full of things to help us through life. All we have to do is take it. And we deserve none of it. What about that?”
“Class, I don’t expect you to give Harry all your belongings. I just want you to understand what has been given to you. As we celebrate Easter today, remember, God did for you sinners, what you were not willing to do, for the town loser.”
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