Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Jersey Samaritan

One night after a long day at work, a lawyer in his mid 50's from Glen Ridge who has just seen the last of his three children go off to college, sits under a chandelier of an empty dining room table to contemplate where his life is going.   His divorce was finalized a few years ago, and his ex-wife now lives in San Diego.  He mulls over calling her but thinks better of it. 

He wonders if he should call the psychologist whom he has been seeing since the divorce, but he finds talking to him seems too much like staring a mirror for an hour with a hangover; it is painful, dreary, and most of all draining.  He then decides to call his eldest child, but she is in night class at law school and can't talk.  His youngest has enough problems of his own adjusting to college life, so talking to him would be all about helping him, and he was way too weak to do that now.  So he takes the cap off the bottle of Glenmorangie he got for Christmas and refills his his heavy tumbler two thirds of the way up the side of the glass and meditates if he should call his middle son. 

Their second child and first boy was a middle kid from the get go.   Having spent more time in the vice principal's office than in class, it was some sort of cosmic joke that this was the one who got religion.  He and his former wife did what his parents did; they had the kids baptized.  They went to church if there was no soccer game for the kids, or anything else fun to do on a Sunday,  More likely to attend Christmas than Easter, they did  have all three kids confirmed to please his in-laws.   His middle guy had fallen in with a campus ministry at school in Illinois, went on a mission trip to Ecuador, met a girl whom he just proposed to, and talks about working for Doctors Without Borders when he finishes med school. The lawyer thinks this is all a bit sketchy,  and that his son is naive. He is sure he will come around once life kicks him around a bit, but hey, at least he believes in something.

He presses the contact link in his I-Phone and his son picks up, "hey dad" he hears on the line.   "How ya doin" the man asks.  "OK, what's up" the son responds.  "What's it all about, son?"  "What?" says the son.  "This faith business you go on and on about."

"Well" the son says with a drawn out pause. "It's simple to think about but most times hard to do.  You're not religious, but you've been to church enough to get the message, Do you remember what the pastors would talk about in the sermons."   "Being a good person" said the father.  "Not really" the son answers,  "perhaps being a bit more specific might help"  "If I wanted therapy I'd see my shrink son!"   "Not gonna waste my time trying to fix you dad! But this is not rocket science, you know the answer"   "Love you neighbor as yourself" says the father.   "Just add God to the mix and you got it dad."   "Well how do you do it son?"  "Let me tell you a story" he replies.

"Suppose one evening a guy from our neighborhood takes his Range Rover and drives southeast on Bloomfield Avenue towards Newark to see a Devil's game.   As he pulls up to a traffic light.  A 20 year old Honda Civic stops suddenly in front of him without break lights and the guy runs into the back of it.  The man steps out of the Range Rover to inspect the damage.  Out of the Honda come three guys with baseball bats.   They beat the man senseless, take his watch, wallet and keys.  One jumps back into to the Honda and the other two drive off in the Range Rover for a joy ride. He is left alone bloody and broken on the street within an inch of his life"

"Across the intersection in a Toyota Camry sits a man in clerical color,  he's on his way to meet with a church about becoming their pastor.  Shocked, he assumes someone has a cell phone and will report it.  He can't be late; he knows that if he lands this position he will be able to help people. So he drives off.   Right after him a deaconess from a Pentecostal church drives by in a Dodge Caravan on her way to pick up a widow to take her to Bible Study.  Disturbed and scared at the sight of the man in the road she too drives by.  Thinking she is a woman alone and that someone must have reported it by now, she remembers to jot it down in prayer journal as she pulls up to the widow's house in Montclair.  As the light changes again, a 20 something black man in a hoodie runs across four lanes of traffic as he dials 911 and tells the operator about the man on the side of the road.  Swallowing his fear that the police will mistake him for one of the suspects he waits until help arrives."

"The police arrive. followed an ambulance. They perform first aid while carefully loading the man onto a backboard and stretcher to take the man to whatever they call UMDMJ Hospital these days.  The guy in the hoodie knows someone from his church who works in the hospital and asks about the John Doe. He convinces her to look the other way with HIPA and he recruits his church friends to sit vigil with the man until he regains consciousness.  After he starts to recover, the church helps him back into his house in Glen Ridge and makes sure he has food to eat and company in his recovery."

The son asked his father, "which person in the story loved God and his neighbor?" "The kid in the hoodie" says the dad.  The son, whose voice is breaking because he is overcome with love for his dad says "I know you're cynical old guy with a receding hair line and beer gut, but you will never find peace until you are more like the guy with hoodie.  This is really Jesus' story, and it's the only time in the bible he says 'go and do likewise' so you need to be that guy."

My rewrite of Luke 10:25-37 takes place in towns that I am familiar with but don't know anybody who lives in them.  As a white male in my mid 50's I chose the protagonists for obvious reasons.  You may criticize me for these choices, but I would encourage you to ask the question "who is my Samaritan?"  That is, the person who society is conditioning you to reflexively fear.  Until we understand our common humanity and our God given call to care for each other there will be no peace.  

Be blessed 
Pastor Knecht