[From the archives.]
I went out to lunch with my son on Tuesday. As we left the restaurant he saw a man across the plaza and said, “That guy needs to pull his pants up.”
I looked and said, “That guy needs help,” and started running over.
The man was slumped half way between his wheelchair and a bench, barely holding on, and his pants had slipped down exposing his buttocks and upper legs. As I ran forward I saw bruises all up and down his thighs, like huge black and blue stripes. He was wearing what looked like hospital scrubs and as I got up to him I saw a hospital bracelet on his wrist. We were nowhere near the hospital.
I told him I’d help and asked if he was trying to get on the bench or into the chair. He was in obvious distress – mental and physical – and barely comprehensible, mumbling something, but I heard his raspy weak voice say “bench” so I untangled his feet from where they’d got caught under the wheelchair and swung them up, and then reached under his armpits to pull and straighten him out so he was lying down on his side. I tried to pull his pants up as best I could too, but he was on them and he was too heavy for me to lift up off the bench completely. Then I saw a blanket under him so I tugged and pulled until it came loose and laid it over the top of him. All the while I was telling him what I was doing.
This man was about as filthy as anyone I’d come across recently – with scraggly hair and a nose that needed wiping and clothes that were falling off him and dirt crusted hands and shoes that had stepped in things I’d rather not identify – and I wondered just what I was getting all over my hands. Better not to think about that too much. I called 911 and said there was a man who needed a welfare check.
While waiting, a man wearing slacks and a tie walked out of a nearby theater and said he was a firefighter. He knew the man on the bench and started talking to him, calling him by name. Apparently this was not the first time he’d had contact with the guy. The off-duty firefighter said he’d stay with the man, so my son and I continued on our way. From halfway down the block we saw the ambulance had arrived and they were loading the man on a stretcher. I assume he’s now at the hospital being cared for.
I’m not used to getting hands-on with people like that. Oddly, even though this man was filthy and incomprehensible and his pants had fallen down around his knees, I didn’t feel any reluctance in running over and helping him, lifting him and laying him back, covering him with his old tattered blanket. It’s not that I felt a rush of joy either. It’s just that there wasn’t much feeling going on one way or the other.
Until later that night. As I lay in bed I thought back over the events, vividly seeing his face and clothes and legs and shoes and blanket and wheelchair, that’s when I started feeling something.
I felt revulsion.
I felt like I could feel the grime again and his tattered clothes in my hands, that I could smell him and his blanket and his wheelchair, that I could hear his incoherent mumblings and raspy breathing. And as I thought of those things I felt revulsion so bad that I could feel myself almost vomit.
Who’s the sick one here? The man I helped? Sure, in one sense. But me too. I am a child of the living God for crying out loud, and yet I get repulsed by merely touching the least of these around me?
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:1-3.)
Jesus said it’s the sick who need the doctor. (Luke 5:31.) I’m sick. I have a soul barren and bruised apart from Christ.
I need healing. Jesus reached out and touched the leper’s sores and wounds and healed him.
I am healed because Jesus reached out and touched me too.