He was a college student, in his first year at Buffalo, and one of the first weekends after he was settled in the dorm, he and some of the other freshmen he had befriended had gone to the city center, where there was a gathering of food trucks and live music on Saturday night. It was awkward, and he regretted going, because as soon as they had come out, the group had begun to treat him like he was the fifth wheel. When it was getting late, they called an uber to go back to the dorms, but when it came, instead of being a 7-seat SUV, it was a 5 seat, and there was no room for him.
“You go,” he said, in an attempt to play it cool. “I’ll call another or catch the metro, I’m fine.”
“Are you serious?” they said, as if they cared, but they clamored over each other into the vehicle and after a minute he was standing alone on a side street near Niagara Square, holding up his phone and trying to get his Cricket wireless to find a signal.
He started to walk, to find better service and the nearest Metro station, and as he took the first turn, he found himself alone. The shops and businesses on the street were silent, with only the mannequins in the windows for witnesses when it happened. Two men standing in a side alley came out quickly- one grabbed him from behind and held a knife to his throat while covering his mouth and telling him to give up his money, while the other gave him a quick punch to the gut and grabbed his phone. When he doubled from the pain, they let him drop and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. The meaner of the two let out some inner frustrations by repeatedly kicking him, landing one directly in the face, and the first one stole the actual shoes off of his feet before they ran off. He had covered his face as soon as he felt the first kick, barely making a sound, just curling in a protective position and trying to survive, but after a few terrifying minutes he lifted his head. When he saw no one, though he was bleeding from the mouth, and sore all over, he scrambled to his feet (one bare, one socked) and started running in the opposite direction of the alley they had come from. He thought he was returning the way he had come, back in the direction of people and safety, but in his fear he had disoriented himself and he was heading towards the wide dark park, which was mostly deserted at the late hour. He hit the soft grass and passed a row of thick trees, but the adrenaline pulsed through him and caused his legs to pump furiously for almost a full five minutes as he frantically turn after turn, following the path until he tripped over a low set of steps and landed on the ground under a stone overpass.
He pulled his jean jacket over his face, tucked himself against the stone, and like he hadn’t since he was a child, he cried until he fell asleep.
Sunday mornings before the service, Pastor Lee always got a run in. It helped him to let off some of the jitters and stresses, and he could head to the church with a clear and a fresh mind. His wife didn’t love the practice, since it wasn’t always easy to get the two littles ready to church on time, but he had recently arranged for one of the youth girls to come over early and help her out, so he felt actually really proud that it was working out so well.
Life was all about taking care of the important things, he had just preached, and Lee considered three things the most important: his faith, his family, and his fitness. He knew he couldn’t preach about fitness without offending some of the more “well-rounded” members of his congregation, but he wished he could. It would do them a lot of good.
“I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified,” was his favorite verse, taken from the Extra Sanctified Version, and as he rounded the corner of the park at 5:15 that Sunday morning, he rolled around how he could preach it. Maybe to the youth group.
He almost stepped on the body. It was just inside the shadow of the stone overpass, and one leg was in the walkway. His sharp reflexes snapped into action, so he managed to hop over it and not trip or stop, but it was a few long strides before he realized what was there. He came to a stop on the other side of the underpass and turned his run into a jog while he looked back to assess. Was it a dead body? Or a drunk?
He was frustrated, and looked at his smart watch to check the time and his heartrate, which was already dropping. He had exactly 16 minutes to finish the loop and get back in time to shower and get to church in time for the elder’s prayer meeting. But how could he ignore a dead body? He started to jog back lightly, but just as he did, the body moved and rolled over.
It wasn’t dead.
Lee rolled his eyes and went back to his run. People needed to get their lives figured out. Sleeping off a party on a Sunday morning just was never appealing to him.
An hour later, two ladies came towards the overpass on their way to Pastor Lee’s church. It was a bright September morning and they were excitedly talking about the new changes to the worship team. One was a teacher at a nearby preschool and the other was her sister, who worked as a receptionist at a dentist office.
“Becca, wait,” said the receptionist, and pulled on her sister’s sleeve. Her eyes were fixed on a spot just inside the pass, where a lump of something looked vaguely human. “I think there’s a guy sitting there.”
They were both smart enough to know the dangers of being a woman in the city. They tried to act cool, and didn’t make direct eye contact with whatever might be slumped against the stone wall, but instead they casually crossed the road and took the opposite walkway. After they were well along the path, they glanced back. He hadn’t moved, so it was fine.
“They need to do something about the homeless in this park,” the receptionist said.
“That’s so mean,” said the teacher. “Most of them have mental issues. They can’t help it.”
“Then they need mental help,” answered Becca. “But I bet a lot of them just need to be in jail.”
It was another full hour before someone else passed. Nick was walking his french bulldog the long way back from a local bagel place when he came to the overpass. It was almost 9 am, and though earlier Chris had managed to pull himself up to sit against the wall, by this time he had slid back down and was lying on his side. Nick first noticed his sock. Only one sock, and one bare foot. He came to a dead stop and got shivers down his spine as he surveyed the situation.
In about ten seconds, he knew this was no random homeless person. First of all, most of the homeless in the area had at least some little assortment of personal belongings. This man had nothing but a face full of dried dark stuff. Vomit? Blood? But aside from his damp and dirty appearance, he was wearing what looked like an authentic Levi’s denim jacket paired with black pants and what looked like a clean white top. And of course, that single sock, black with a tiny hot dog pattern on it. This was not the ensemble of a typical homeless person.
Was he hungover? Or a victim of a hate crime? Nick shuddered and looked both directions to check his own back. The park seemed empty, with just the sounds of traffic far off and birds nearby, so he pulled out his phone and started to dial 911 as he took a few gingerly steps towards the young man.
“Oh my god, Winston, stop it,” he said, pulling the leash tighter so that the dog couldn’t actually lick the dirty man. But he didn’t do it fast enough, and Chris reacted to the dogs tongue on his hand. He pulled his hand away quickly, but then winced as though the effort hurt a lot.
Nick immediately set his bagels down and squatted next to Chris.
“Excuse me, sir, can you hear me? Do you need help?” he asked, and lightly touched Chris’ arm.
Chris slowly turned his face towards’ Nick’s voice and squinted at him. One eye was so swollen it barely opened. He held his body away from Nick, though, as though protecting himself.
“I don’t have any more money,” he croaked.
“Oh my god, ew, I’m not here for your money, I’m being a freaking good samaritan, okay?” Nick answered. “Did you get in a fight? Have you been here all night?”
Chris mumbled something and tried to pull his jacket onto his shoulder better, and moved as if he wanted to get up.
“No, don’t get up,” Nick said, and held him in place. “You’re a literal mess. Where are you from? I’m calling an ambulance.” He pressed send on the 911 call as he picked up Chris’ wrist and tried to take a pulse, vaguely remembering a first aid course he had taken.
Nick hung around while the EMTs assessed the situation. The kicks to the head had left Chris very disoriented. He remembered being attacked, but not where or why he was in Buffalo in the first place. They determined he had at least a few broken ribs and a concussion, and before they drove away Nick asked them which hospital they’d be going to. He answered as many questions as he could (which wasn’t many) for the local police who questioned him, and gave his phone number in case they had more.
After he dropped the bagels and the dog off with his boyfriend, he changed his clothes and went down to the hospital, where he found Chris in a bed looking much better.
“Ugh, this is so awkward, but I just had to check on you,” he said. Chris didn’t remember him, but Nick didn’t mind. He told Chris exactly how he had found him and then spent a little time asking him questions to solve the mystery of where Chris had come from. He discovered that Chris could remember his mother’s full name, Marilyn Hoon, and that she was a real estate agent in Syracuse, so he searched for her name and had her on the phone in less than twenty minutes. The nurse was thrilled at this crack in the case, and when Nick knew that Marilyn was on her way, he said goodbye.
On his way out, he stopped at the nurse’s station.
“His mom said she’s on her way,” he said. “Should be here in about an hour, I think. I’m headed out but I wanted to leave my number in case…”
“Oh, sure,” the nurse said. “Let me get a pen.”
After he wrote it down, he looked sheepish. “This is probably totally crazy,” he said. “But seriously, call me if he needs anything. I just want to make sure he’s okay.”
“Of course you do,” said the nurse. “You’re his friend.”
The similarities between the Jewish-Samaritan conflict and the Christian-LGBTQ conflict are more than you might realise.
Before I really knew who the Samaritans were, I thought it was just a generic nationality that was non-Jew. I thought possibly it was nearly synonymous with being a “Gentile.” But the short story is that the Samaritans were a group of people who worshipped the same God that the Israelites did, but they had “corrupted” the beliefs that the Jews believed and therefore were worse than Gentiles. They were so detested that they refused to live with, intermarry, or worship alongside the Samaritans, even though they WORSHIPED THE SAME GOD. The Jews believed that the corruption meant that God hated them, was displeased with them, and they were not only the enemies of God’s people, but they were the enemies of God himself.
They actually had good reason to think this.
Two of the most respected of the Old Testament leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah, had been firm and resolute about the depravity of the Samaritans and the necessity of treating them with a cold shoulder and even hostility.
You might say: Well, the Samaritans deserved it. They were Israel’s enemies.
According to Ezra chapter 4, the Samaritans FIRST came to Israel and said, “Let us help you build the temple to worship God, and we will worship with you!”
And the Israelites were like- “Um, no, we want nothing to do with you impure enemies of God. We’re the really godly ones, Go away.”
And then there was a long time of hostility, including a whole chapter of how Ezra has a loud public breakdown and tells everyone to publicly repent and SEND THEIR SAMARITAN WIVES AND CHILDREN AWAY TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES which is considered a good and holy and godly way to act,
…until Jesus comes along and tells this story.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Luke 10:25-37
This isn’t the only time Jesus interacts with Samaritans. The other time is when he takes the road THROUGH Samaria (that Jews never took) and has a drink with a Samaritan woman.
Listen, I’m very aware that this entry is going to make people very uncomfortable. I’ve been an evangelical all my life and it makes me uncomfortable.
The LGBTQ question is the litmus test in this country- Are you a “christian” or are you “liberal?”
But the much better question is this: What are we supposed to do to inherit eternal life?
Is it to hate my enemy, hate ‘God’s enemies,’ and to publicly avoid anything that might be ungodly?
Or is it to love God and love others?