By William Willimon, The Last Word, Abingdon Press, 2000, pages 49-52.
The Good Samaritan by David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690)
We were coming out of the diner, my friend and I, he a preacher and I one too. Heading down the street toward our churches, we came across a poor old man sprawled out on the edge of the sidewalk, head swirling around in drunken stupor.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers… Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30-31)
“Poor old man,” said my friend.
“You know, we really ought to do something,” said I. “He could get hurt out here in his condition.”
“After all, we’re in the business, right?” said my friend.
“Yea, right,” said I. That’s how it started.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. (Luke 10:33-34a)
My friend took one of the man’s arms, and I took the other. With some difficulty, we got him to his feet. He was dressed in a rumpled, terribly dirty old suit, with a crumpled hat. As he attempted to steady himself, he swerved and staggered back and forth on the sidewalk, my friend and I staggering with him, trying to get him upright.
“Easy does it,” the man mumbled. “Lookout for those slippery placcs!”
“Hey, old man, you really ought to get some help,” said my friend. The three of us, the man with my friend and I on either side, staggered and tottered down the sidewalk, people scurrying out of our way.
“Where do we take someone in this condition?” I wondered aloud.
“There’s got to be somewhere for people like him,” said my friend.
“Would you mind watching what you’re doing,” said the old man in an aggravated tone of voice, “you’re going to run aground and kill everybody on the boat!”
We staggered and tottered, the three of us, to a nearby phone booth.
My friend left me outside to wrestle with the recipient of our compassion while my friend began thumbing through the phone book. “Well, are we going to just stand here, or are we going to go inside and eat lunch?” asked the man, gesturing toward the phone booth.
“Aha! Here we are, the Greenville Alcohol Information Center,” said my friend. “It’s not too far from here. We can drive it in five minutes.”
We staggered, the three of us; on down the street; with the man mumbling, “What was wrong with that restaurant? It looked good to me.”
Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:34b)
Once in my friend’s car—he in the front, and me and our ward in the back—we headed toward the Alcohol Information Center. By the time we reached Main Street, the old man had passed out again and was snoring quietly on my shoulder.
Just after we turned on to busy Main Street, without warning, the old man began to shout, curse, and kick.
“Hold him!” said my friend, looking over into the backseat where I was wrestling for all that I was worth. The man was kicking, screaming something about “Snakes, everywhere, snakes!”
With that he somehow managed to kick the back door open and fell forward out of the car and into the street. The car stopped. All I had to hold him in the car was the seat of his pants, pants which, with his struggling to get away and my struggling to hold him, were now being pulled down to his hips.
“Help me!” he began shouting to the people on the sidewalk. “Help me! I don’t even know these people and they are trying to take me someplace! Help!”
There I was—traffic stopped in the middle of Main Street—attempting to wrestle this old man back into the car while also speaking to the now gathering crowd on the street: “I am a Methodist. My friend is a Baptist. We are clergy. We are helping this old man here.”
“I don’t want no help from nobody, ‘specially no preachers!” he was shouting to the crowd.
I finally succeeded in forcing him back into the backseat, and the car sped away. After a few more moments of struggle, the old man passed out once again and slept peacefully until we arrived at the big office building that housed the Alcohol Information Center.
It wasn’t easy getting a totally unconscious man out of the car, across the street, into the lobby, on the elevator, and up to the ninth floor. I had him propped up in one corner of the elevator, where he kept sliding to the floor.
“I am a Methodist minister,” I kept saying to people who got on the elevator. “We are helping this man. My friend is a Baptist.”
The Alcohol Information Center consisted of a young woman seated behind a desk. On the desk were stacks of leaflets about substance abuse. That was it. When the three of us staggered into her office, it was obvious that she had never actually seen an inebriated person in her life; probably never seen two clergy, either.
“You can’t bring him in here,” she said to us.
“But he needs help,” protested my friend.
“Not here,” she said. When he persisted, she agreed to go upstairs and ask her boss what we might do with the man (who now slept in one of the metal chairs, his head resting peacefully on her desk between the stacks of pamphlets).
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” (Luke 10:35)
As soon as she left the office, my friend and I looked at one another and, without a word of deliberation, quietly but quickly tiptoed out of the office and ran for the elevator, leaving the recipient of our good will sleeping between stacks of pamphlets.
Once downstairs and on the street, we sped away, he to work on next Sunday’s sermon, me to the tennis court.
Luke 10:29-37. Easier to preach than to practice.
Genesis 4:9 — Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Luke 10:29 — He wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Matthew 25:40b — (Jesus said), “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
O Lord Jesus Christ, who when on earth was always occupied by your Father’s business: grant that we may not grow weary in well-doing, and give us the grace to do all in your name. Amen. –E. B. Pusey