For as long as I can remember, people have called him Junk Eddie. He lives in a junk yard a few miles down the road from my grandparent’s farm. Although I’ve never seen it myself, I’ve been told he sleeps in an old abandoned house trailer that seems to drift about in the sea of used tires, household appliances, and rusty farm equipment that covers his property. Since his house burned to the ground several years back, he’s made the trailer his home, though it has no running water or indoor plumbing.
Ed is a quiet, elderly man who likes to keep to himself. He doesn’t talk to many people and very few people talk to him. He isn’t a drunk. He isn’t homeless. He doesn’t abuse women or hunt down children. He gives his money to the local Catholic church and slicks back his hair once a week to go to bingo.
But people treat him like a criminal. They turn away when they see him, walk on the other side of the street when he’s coming toward them, and laugh about him when he’s close enough to hear.
For his part, Ed doesn’t do much to raise people’s opinions of him. He takes particular pride in the fact that he has never in his life paid more than a quarter for a piece of clothing. To demonstrate the fact, he walks around town dressed in filthy, ill-fitting clothes, a pair of worn out shoes, and an old hat that makes a half-hearted attempt to cover his stringy gray hair. More than once, I’ve seen him rummaging through a curbside trash heap, looking for discarded clothing and putting on anything that fits. Sometimes it’s an improvement. Most of the time, it isn’t.
Some days I see Ed behind the grocery store, pulling soggy lettuce heads from the garbage bin. He waits by the back door for the manager to dump out all the rotten or expired food. He tries to be there early so he can salvage the meat and dairy products while they’re still cold. If anyone asks, Ed says the food is for his dog, but no one believes him.
The truth is, most people are a little afraid of Ed. People like him could be dangerous, unpredictable. They lock their doors when he comes down the street and pull down the shades. They avoid him because they don’t understand him.
But not my grandpa. Grandpa has been a friend of Ed’s for years. I don’t know how my grandpa, a former missionary and an elder on the church board, got to be friends with this eccentric outcast, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with Grandpa’s relationship with the Lord.
I never knew my grandpa when he wasn’t a Christian, although he tells stories of his wild days before he came to his senses. He used to be an alcoholic, although it’s hard to imagine him that way now. As long as I’ve known him, he has had a passion for God. Every morning, he gets up before daylight to read his Bible and pray. He sits in his favorite chair by the window and begins his day with God. He commits the things he reads to his heart and applies them to his life.
Maybe that’s why Grandpa started reaching out to Ed. He read that those who follow Christ should walk as Jesus walked, and he believed it. He read that Jesus walked among the sinners and the outcasts and the untouchables of his day, and Grandpa decided that if he was to be like Jesus, he’d have to do the same. So he started walking with Ed.
Every week, Grandpa makes a trip down the road to visit Ed. Very few people ever stop in to see Ed. They can’t get past the smell of rotting food and the trash that seems to cover every inch of his property. Sometimes he gets a visit from a high school kid looking for some odd car part, or a from a city council member looking for some way to throw Ed in jail for health code violations, but that’s about it. I imagine Ed must get awfully lonely at times, which is probably why he enjoys Grandpa’s visits. Grandpa is probably the only true friend Ed has ever had.
And Grandpa considers it a privilege to be a part of Ed’s life. When he comes home from an afternoon at the junkyard, his face is glowing. Usually, he walks in the house with an armful of food Ed salvaged from that day’s trip to the grocery store. Sometimes he brings home a piece of scrap metal or a machine part he can use in his shop.
He comes home with stories too, stories about how God is working in Ed’s life and how Grandpa has had a chance to love him like Jesus would, not always with words, but with deeds. Inevitably, when Grandpa talks about Ed, he begins to cry. Tears well up in his eyes and run down his weathered face. “I hope he knows how much I appreciate him,” Grandpa will say. “I hope he knows.”
It is in those moments that I begin to see clearly what it means to walk as Jesus walked. I understand what it means to love without condition, and what it means to be a light to the world. I begin to realize that if Christians hope to impact the world for Christ, they must first live Christ out in their daily lives. When my grandpa, in his worn leather vest and straw hat, leans on his old blue Dodge and talks to Ed while the work piles up in the shop, he looks a lot to me like Jesus. Not the pristine, stained-glass Jesus reserved for Sunday school and Easter cards, but the friend-of-sinners Jesus, the Jesus who mixed mud with His hands, who smelled of dust and the bottoms of fishing boats, the Jesus who kept company with corpses and allowed sticky children and scandalous women to touch Him. He looks a lot like the Jesus who loved with His life and not just with His words.
Some people might want to pat my grandpa on the back and tell him what a noble thing it is he is doing by befriending Junk Eddie. Still, not many of us would go in his place. But Jesus would.
*This story was originally published in Moody magazine, which is no longer in print. I entered it in a writing contest sponsored by best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins. Since I had written it the night before and printed it just minutes before the deadline, I was shocked when I won. But I was thrilled that this story could be told because it captures the heart of a man who has deeply impacted my life. My grandfather lost his battle with cancer last year. His was a life well-lived, and this is how I will remember him.