This is a passage adapted from a theological journal I kept for a systematic theology class I took at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Originally dated 9/16/92, this particular event still resonates deeply within me, because of the problems and disappointments I’ve experienced with the church since that time, and because of the hope that I realize abides in the church that properly lives out its professed faith in the Compassionate Christ.
September 16, 1992
Tonight my friends and I were stopped behind a row of cars at a red light on Moreland Avenue when my buddy, who was driving, said, “There’s someone laying in the road up there.” A myriad of thoughts flooded my mind. Perhaps it was a drunk passed out. Or maybe it was someone who had been hit by a car and was lying there dying. My wife and I had watched as a man was struck by a car while crossing the street a couple of years before, and I’ve never shaken the horror of the sound, of watching the broken body fly like a limp rag doll through the air for what seemed like an eternity, and of the pool of coagulating blood gathering around his head as he lay on the pavement in a heap. My thoughts were interrupted when my buddy said, “Everyone’s just driving around him.” I immediately jumped out of the car and ran ahead to discover a black man, probably about my age, who had fallen off his bicycle and had apparently broken his leg. Nobody else had even bothered to stop and check on him.
Here was a man lying in the road at a terribly busy intersection, and people were just driving around him as if he were merely a nuisance, thrown down on the pavement to interrupt the smooth progression of their evening. The man who had been beaten by robbers in the story of “The Good Samaritan” came instantly to mind. I wondered how many of the people passing were Christians. It was a Wednesday night; how many were on their way home from Bible studies or prayer meetings. Perhaps none of them, but that’s very unlikely. After I got to him, a young lady came running over saying she was a nurse. Someone went to call 911. A young man, dressed well and wearing a tie (was he coming home from church?) came running up saying he too was a nurse.
As I stood with the man directing traffic so no one would hit him and waiting for help to arrive, I saw the curious passers by straining for a good look, trying to see what strange event might be unfolding on the road in their paths to wherever. I imagined the stares of the curious at the homeless who line our city streets, at the mangled homes of hurricane victims in southern Florida, at the emaciated bodies of starving Somalis lined across TV screens. How often do we strain for a better look from the comfort of our protected spaces? And the words of Jesus, speaking about the beaten man, the religious leaders, and the socially unacceptable Samaritan, rang clearly in my head – “Which one of these was this man’s neighbor?”