For 12 years I could walk to and from work. I was a pastor. Work was about five blocks away. I walked along a busy two-lane road that was also a commuting corridor for the hospital.
One cold Autumn afternoon I was walking past red brick apartments located about two blocks from home. I noticed a man standing on the stoop outside the building banging on the door trying to get back in. He was an older man, quite thin and wearing only a small towel around his waist. I did a double take and he caught my eye. He looked vulnerable, like a trapped animal, wondering if there was mercy or judgement. I stopped and approached. Maybe it was a gesture or the micro movements compensating for his impaired balance, but I knew he was drunk.
His story was that others in the building were angry with him and had locked him out. No doubt he was a character. He did not have his keys and no one would come to the door. He needed a key from the property manager about a half mile away.
I could have left him there to go and get help, or ask him to wait while I left and got my car. I could have waited with him for someone to come and open the door. But in the end, I elected to walk with him to my car two blocks away and take him to get a key to enter the building. I asked him his name, told him mine, and we started the journey.
He was unsteady, just out of the shower and cold. We stepped off the stoop and walked out to the sidewalk and turned toward my house. I put his right arm over my shoulders so he could steady himself, and slipped my left arm around his waist. His free hand secured the towel. He was barefooted so we walked slowly. There was an odd intimacy touching this stranger’s cool skin.
It was not lost on me that the hospital was changing shifts. Cars were stacked up at the light, watching. I knew we were a sight. I was running scenarios imagining what people were thinking with me side-hugging a mostly naked man walking down Hawthorne Road at rush hour.
Conflict raged in my head as we shuffled the two blocks. We neared the corner and Larry said to me, “I am so sorry you have to be seen with me.”
How did he know what was going on in my head? I was shocked, caught red-handed.
His shame opened a window in my soul. The Spirit entered, and in nanoseconds I processed the gospel story. This time I was the naked one, drunk on some addiction, exposed, vulnerable, in a ditch with no options, needing a good Samaritan. I saw the shame it cost to help me, and that shame scorned, despised, damned, and gladly endured by Jesus.
Clear headed and bright I told Larry, “I am proud to be seen with you. It is an honor to help you.” We finished our task, got him inside and parted ways.
I saw him occasionally in the neighborhood. The first time I greeted him like a friend, throwing my arm in the air and yelling “Larry!” He hadn’t a clue. No memory of the encounter. I began to feel offense. He didn’t remember me and what I had done for him. I was rescued again when the Spirit gigged me, laughed, and said, “Like you have such a good memory!”
>>> Read another story in our blog series “Jesus’ Peculiar Friends,” describing the unlikely friendships that Jesus followers end up with, following in their Lord’s precedent.