It is the mid-1980s and a scourge of a health epidemic was raging throughout our country and the world, eventually. Thousands were dying of AIDS and there was no known cure. We only knew that the disease stemmed from indiscreet sexual practices, particularly among the gay community.
In San Francisco, California, a popular opinion journalist for the city’s top newspaper used his column to condemn the gay community growing in his city. In column after column he berated gay people claiming the city would lose profitable tourism, residents would move away, children would be harmed. He was a bitter, angry man threatened by a community he feared. Rather than use his column for understanding and healing, he used it for division, packing it full of mendacious lies and gathering a minion of followers as he did so.
One night this gentleman left his perch at a local tavern he frequented and a fierce December storm whipped off the ocean lashing the city in a blinding, cold rain. He couldn’t walk in this rain. He was inebriated. You see, no one, except his family for the most part, knew he was addicted to alcohol. Nearly every night he feebly managed to walk home where he gargled more alcohol, his swallowing reflexes so numbed by that time as not to work. But this night, as he stumbled home, the ferocity of the storm disoriented him; he fell onto a cobbled street, hit his head and rolled to the gutter. He was unconscious and bleeding profusely.
Suddenly, a younger man spotted him as he was driving home from choral practice. Other drivers passed by not having seen him or perhaps afraid to stop. The young man knelt down and staunched the bleeding head with his handkerchief and rags he kept in his car. He used his own coat to wrap the hurt man and carried him to his car. Emergency room attendants found the stricken man’s identity in his wallet and said they would call his family. The young man departed leaving his contact information in case anything was further needed from him.
The next day a beautiful plant was delivered to the journalist’s hospital room. The note included a short wish for recovery and was signed only with the sender’s first name. The nurses knew the sender was the young man. The hospitalized man insisted that personnel track down the young man so he could meet him and thank him for saving his life. Later that day, the young man appeared in the room. The journalist embraced him with tears and joy. “How did you find me?” he asked. The story emerged: “I was going home after practice with the Gay Mens’ Chorus for a Christmas concert. I saw you lying in the street.” “Do you know who I am?” asked the journalist, tentatively. “Yes. I knew the minute I saw your face. But you needed help.”
Can you imagine the intensity of God’s love that filled that hospital room at that moment? I read this story over 30 years ago and it still resonates with me whenever I hear the Gospel of the Good Samaritan. I do not remember any of the names in the story. But I do remember sitting quietly in the library, stunned with the true meaning of the Good Samaritan and yet there was no reference to the Gospel story in the article. Think of what is included in both stories: charity, forgiveness, repentance. Two men accepting each other from divergent lifestyles and a division that melted away. This past Sunday we heard the story of the Good Samaritan, a story that tells of love in action: Immediate. No questions asked. A risk, perhaps. A cost, certainly. There are many stories of someone doing good for a stranger, but someone doing good for an enemy? The Good Samaritan has touched the hearts of millions of believers who have listened to God’s message. I have no idea if either man in the modern story thought of the Good Samaritan as their particular drama unfolded. But I do know this: Each man was blest to encounter the other and gain a spiritual insight as well as life. And Jesus was there to bless it all.
Read this Gospel story again this week. Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 25:31-46 Take each character and ask yourself when you might have been this person, a simulacrum of another person on a journey which is sometimes dangerous and sometimes grace-filled. Ask yourself: Have I ever been a Good Samaritan? Have I ever benefitted from the ministry of a Good Samaritan?
Dear God, help me to be open to the times in my life when a person needs my assistance. Help me to overlook every detail that could keep me from giving that help.
Help me to see Jesus in every circumstance that surrounds a person in need and in the person as well. Help me, also, to be accepting of the help another offers me. May I bind wounds rather than create them. If bearing you in my heart and soul helps me to see the person in need, may I carry you with me everywhere and for everyone.