The absurdity of Samaritanism

I’m missin’ some teeth. I wear plain clothing dated to the mid-19th century, and when I wear my collarless overcoat it looks like a Mississippi prison-issue denim jacket. When I put 89 cents into a church basket during collection at Greater Apostolic Faith Temple on Fort St. in Detroit last Sunday, I apologized for the small amount. I had left my cash behind at my parents’ house that morning when I drove down Fort Street until I found a church in the city.

The deacon, however, did not know I had cash at home. He must have taken one look at me and felt mercy in his heart. He came back a few minutes later with a $20 bill and placed it in my hand with no questions asked.

Please consider a few preliminary statements. Because the money was gifted, I have no business rejecting it as un-needed. Too many persons of privilege refuse gifts from folks “who can’t really afford it” and some get outright angry for being considered as a person in need. Some might feel humiliated. Secondly, the first church I stopped by that morning was one that lacked energy, sang the same old songs, and was invested in celebrating the 100th anniversary of their building. Buildings are nice, but I did not see the gospel embodied in that church that was decorated with American flags, altar screens, robed and collared authority, and hymnals from 1943. The gospel was read during my half hour in that church, but none of it made sense in the setting. The deacon at Greater Apostolic embodied the gospel. As did the man who sat behind me and reached out to me every time the preacher asked the congregation to speak truth in Spirit to the person closest to us. I felt no barriers, even though my plain clothes and mouth half-full of yellowing teeth distinguished me from the well-dressed and jewelried congregation as much as my skin tone. I was the only white boy there. I did not feel the least bit suspect, suspected, or the target of curiosity. I belonged there, and felt that my presence was evidence of Spirit rather than strange.

At any rate, I left that service filled and overflowing with the Spirit, and drove back to my parents to pick up my son Micah, who enjoys going downtown and walking among the cavernous side streets and alleys of Detroit’s skyline. We jumped into our rusty Chevy pickup and drove back down Fort Street. Just as we made it to the edge of downtown, near the AT&T building, I saw a man down on the sidewalk on the corner. My first thought was that he passed out drunk. My next thought is that he might be nearly dead. My family will tell you, my thinking is biblical by default, and you can take that for what it is worth according to your own assumptions. For me, it meant turning the truck around.

I told my son to stay in the truck, and I got out to go see if the man was in need of help. Thank God, he woke up on my second prompt, and stood up rather shakily, and looked me right in the eye. I asked him if he was ok, and needed help, or something to eat. He said he was hungry, and needed to pee. We headed up to the Coney Island on the Corner of Fort just below Trumbull for a burger and fries. It was closed. My new friend went behind the building to relieve himself, and then we hooped back in the pickup, my son riding in the bed of the truck. Next stop: Sweetwater Tavern and $12.00 burgers. Oh, they dress real nice there too. Between my plain clothes and DJ’s fully ripened ensemble, we were suspect, and the target of curiosity, and in fact, we were the target of scorn. We ordered his meal anyway and sat talking, just me, DJ, and Micah.

Micah and I left briefly for our stroll through downtown after paying the bill, and drove DJ to the laundromat over on Lafayette with money to wash clothes and get the bus back to the place he sleeps at night. I had just tried to embody the gospel message of the Good Samaritan for my son and DJ, without ever referring to it or mentioning my faith. I tried to practice what I preach because that is the only way it is made credible to my son, my fellow Friends and brethren, and the world around us. Most of all, I did it because the man laying on the sidewalk is a fucking human being, and we tend to forget that. We have to live shit out, not dismiss our opportunities to test the text because we have too little time or too much fear.

When I asked my son later what he thought about our time with DJ, he indicated that he had difficulty feeling part of it because he didn’t relate to the old stories DJ and I swapped. It turned out we shared a lot of old 80’s neighborhood experiences, and that was the focus of our conversation at the exclusion of my 12-year-old son. But Micah also said he feared for my life, and for his, when I first got out of the truck. His fear was not the product of ignorance – DJ was black – but because Micah has spent enough time with me in Flint and Detroit to anticipate trouble at any time, because there are broken people in a broken world.

Micah indicated that he knew exactly what I was doing, because this is what his father does. This is how his father lives out his faith. He was not at all surprised by my actions, he said, but his first thought was that he had no recourse if I was shot or otherwise hurt. Micah knew that traps are set, people are targeted, and people misunderstand intentions. What if the man though I was going to rob him, or beat him due to a racist grudge? Neither of us knew what would happen once I reached the man laying on the cement. In fact, we both knew I had no control over the outcome, and Micah does not know how to drive a stick. He had no options. He experienced fear as I experienced compassion to care.

And this is the startling reality of faith, as much as it is trying to embody the faithfulness of Jesus. Faith is not the expectation that God will miraculously deliver you from bullets or beatings, but that you will walk into situations you cannot control, and without trying to control them, simply do as we are told – care for our neighbor, even if they might perceive us as enemies. We embody biblical ethics in order to make both the gospel, and our beliefs, credible by living them out non-coercively despite the threat of negative outcomes or severe consequences.

Counting the costs suggests a willingness to follow through in faith, not because we may win, but because we may lose – in my case around $50 less the twenty the deacon at Greater Apostolic slipped me because he had compassion on me. Seems to me I gained far more than that – some love from a brother, and love for a brother, and it occurred among equals, despite appearances that would generally separate us. Walk cheerfully, bring peace to all you see.

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