When I was a teenager I loved to play sports. Of course, in the 1970’s in rural Alabama that meant Football, basketball and baseball. There were no soccer fields or any other exotic sports where I lived back in the day. So I embraced the three sports we had. I played football and baseball for my school. I never played on the school basketball team. Honestly, it was because I knew I wasn’t good enough to play as a starter, if I made the team. There are a lot more positions in football and baseball and I could always manage to find one I could play well enough to start. But, my ego, pride, fear or all of the above kept me from trying out for basketball.
So I played a lot of pick-up basketball. One winter, I don’t remember if it was a Saturday or during Christmas break, some of us were playing basketball. We were playing on a dirt court and it was cold outside. Someone said, “I wish we had a key to the gym. We could play on a real court and it wouldn’t be so cold.” Our teenage minds began to turn.
Fast -forward to later that morning and we were at the High School looking for an unlocked door or window. We could not find one, so we made one. We went inside and into the gym. Our gym had plenty of ambient light. We played basketball and had a great time. I don’t remember how long we had played when we heard the double doors that led from the school hallway into the gym open. We stopped dribbling and looked toward the doors. In walked Virgil. Virgil was the school custodian. He was an older man. We saw him often during the school year. It was not a large school. The problem was not that we knew Virgil. The problem was that Virgil knew us, by name. We were busted.
Virgil came over and talked to us. He explained that breaking and entering could get us all into a lot of trouble. In those days it wasn’t the law that you were most worried about. It was your parents finding out.
We pleaded our case. We whimpered. We offered excuses. We repented. We would have sacrificed a lamb if it would have helped. Virgil didn’t smile. He said it was his responsibility to call the police. If he didn’t he could lose his job. We realized that we were in trouble.
Then, Virgil, still not smiling, pointed to the door and said, “I am going out into the hallway to do a few things. Then I am coming back in here. Why don’t you boys leave before I come in and find you?”
Virgil left. And so did we. The police never came. The next time I saw Virgil at school, I said hello, as I always had. Virgil smiled and said, “Hello” back to me, as usual. It was our secret. As far as I know Virgil never told anyone.
I am a pastor now and I have read a lot of books about grace. I have heard a lot of sermons about what it means to find forgiveness you did not deserve. None of them have taught me as much as Virgil. He had us dead to right. We were wrong. He might have lost his job if anyone had found out. But he showed us grace. I don’t know why he did it. But, I’m glad he did. Thanks Virgil.
P.S. Virgil, this story won’t get you into trouble anymore. Where you are now, the head guy is partial to forgiveness.