When I was a pastor, I used to walk to work. I walked along a busy two-lane road that was also a commuting corridor for a hospital.
One cold Autumn afternoon I was walking past red brick apartments about two blocks from my home when 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 our eyes met. He looked vulnerable, like a trapped animal, wondering if there was mercy or judgment. I stopped and walked over to him. Maybe it was a gesture or the micro-movements compensating for his impaired balance, but I could tell he was drunk.
He told me that other people 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 I could have asked him to wait while I left and got my car. Or I could have waited with him for someone to come and open the door. But in the end, for some reason, I decided 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 and 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. We walked slowly because he was barefoot. And there was an odd intimacy touching this stranger’s cool skin.
It was not lost on me that the hospital was changing shifts. So, 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 the 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 his building, and parted ways.
After that, I would see 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. But then I was rescued again when the Spirit gigged me, laughed, and said, “Like you have such a good memory!”