The stories of Jesus often make me uncomfortable.
We - Grandma and two of the grandsons - were rushing towards Safeco Field to see the Toronto Blue Jays play the Seattle Mariners. The delay at the border had been long, traffic had been heavy, the shuttle was overbooked and the hotel was a distance from the ballpark.
We were scurrying. All hope of seeing batting practice had been abandoned; the goal now was simply not to miss the first pitch.
Not only has the yearly journey with the grandsons to see the Blue Jays and Mariners become a semi-sacred yearly ritual but the race for the Wild Card was coming down to the wire. Every game counts! Our presence and the voices of Grandma and the boys cheering on the club were vital!
Then the light turned at the crosswalk of Stewart and 5th Avenue N., across from the Westin Hotel. We were forced to stop. Lying there, face down, prostrate on the sidewalk was a man, sobbing, a newspaper and piece of cardboard between him and the cold concrete.
My mind scanned the options - mental illness, drug withdrawal. Other people were around, seemingly indifferent to his state.
Raised since childhood on the stories of Jesus I could not help but think of the story of the Good Samaritan. By rushing by and leaving him to someone else was I playing the role of the priest or the Levite?
Of course, I came up with good reasons why we should not be the ones to stop and inquire. Good, practical, pragmatic reasons.
And, being a trained professional, I had theological/religious reasons. The prime purpose of the Parable of the Good Samaritan was not to urge people to be kind to those beaten and robbed. The head snap of the parable is that we are the ones in need of assistance and it is God reaching out to us, picking us up, tending to our wounds.
Still, the story haunted me.
I am one of the wealthiest people on the planet. We have resources to take two grandsons to see a couple Blue Jays games in a foreign land. I have people to love and who love me. I have friends I can call at two o’clock in the morning and they will come and help me. I have a room in which to sleep that does not leak and whose floor does not bear the tracks of rodents.
True, I do not have the resources of Bill and Melinda Gates (who also live in the Seattle area), still, the story worked on me, a slight burr under my butt as we settled into Safeco Field.
And perhaps that is what Jesus intended.
The next night the game went very late. We rode the train from the Stadium and were waiting for the shuttle across from the Westlake Centre at 5th and Pine.
A few minutes before midnight an African-American man was swabbing out two doorways into an office/retail complex. A woman, obviously homeless and under the influence of some substance, was trying to sleep in one doorway.
He got her to move while he cleaned one area then helped her move back while he cleaned the remaining doorway.
The work needed to be done since some “higher-ups” were coming to do an inspection.
We struck up a conversation. Turns out he had worked in this building since 1985. The work had sustained his eight children and he enjoyed his 19 grandchildren. It was a good job.
I asked about the woman sleeping in the doorway and his attitude towards the homeless who populated the downtown.
“You got to be nice to people,” he said. “We all got our burdens.”
A few minutes later two vans pulled up and started to dispense hot coffee and sandwiches to groups of street folk who seemed to materialize out of the night.
I’m glad the Blue Jays won the two games we saw. But I am as grateful for these other encounters and reminders.
Rev. Dr. Keith Howard is profoundly curious about the interface of the Christian gospel and the social context in which we live. This curiosity has drawn him into many roles, including 23 years of congregational ministry in the United Church; more than five years as executive director of the Emerging Spirit project; and most recently, team leader for LeaderShift in BC Conference. Keith blogs at keithhoward.ca. Sign up for his newsletter here.The next tour he and his wife, Gaye Sharpe, will lead to Egypt, Jordan and the Holy Land leaves April 26 and returns May 13, 2017. A detailed itinerary may be found here.