I learned a big lesson the other day. It involved a bum, an Evangelical Christian, and a meal at Chick-fil-A.
So there we were… my dad and I had cruised over to Chick-fil-A for a quick bite to eat for lunch. I had no idea I was going to receive one of the most severe spiritual smackdowns of my life. By the time I left Chick-fil-A that day, I was motivated to become a better person. All of this happened in the 10 short minutes it took me to wolf down one of those scrumptious harvest salads. (Yes… I’m trying to “eat healthy.”)
Here’s what happened. I just sat down to wait for my food to be brought out to our table. As I was sitting down, I saw a guy sitting in a booth with blond hair and some very dirty clothes. I had seen this guy standing on a few street corners in times past and I knew he definitely had something going on with him. I suspected drugs, but really, I can never be completely sure. I had no idea what this guy has gone through or is going through currently. Odds are, he’s in bad shape and there is an extremely high probability that nobody cares about him. Most people probably look at him as a menace to society. A drain, a druggy, a worthless human being who probably (we assume) brought these circumstances upon himself.
Over the last few years, I feel like I’ve become more cynical toward people like this. I’ve watched on security cameras what appears to be homeless individuals sitting in the hallways at our office building shooting heroine. One night… the cops came, the people packed up to run away, and they stuffed their used syringe in a compartment in our elevator. We only knew because the office cleaning crew told us they reached in there to pick up some trash and the needle almost stuck them in the hand. Every day we come to work, the premises were trashed the night before. According to a few of our law enforcement friends, they can’t arrest them for trespassing unless they catch them in the act of breaking in. The cops cited some law that Governor Jerry Brown enacted recently. The police then told us that “a majority of the homeless people that they come across have access to local programs that can help them get off the streets…” but… but… “they choose not to participate in the programs because it means that they would need to get sober and stop using drugs.”
I’m not a heartless person. I’ve been moved by compassion time and time again by people on the streets. I’ve literally given the shoes on my feet to another who had no shoes. I’ve felt so much love and compassion for those that have less than I do and I’ve always given help where I can. I’ve felt that way all of my life. But that day in this Chick-fil-A, I remember thinking to myself:
“Why don’t they kick that guy out?”
“He’s making a scene.”
“He’s making people uncomfortable.”
“I hope he doesn’t come over here.”
It was 105 degrees outside. He had no shoes on. He was dirty… truly dirty… truly homeless, and either crazy or strung out. He had a Chick-fil-A cup in his hand. Maybe he was thirsty.
I don’t know why my thoughts were so harsh that day. Maybe I was having a bad day. Maybe I was tired of the accumulated property damage at our office, or annoyed at the need for us to step over homeless people’s urine on the way to our front door at work. I don’t know what it was but my thoughts weren’t kind toward this particular man at this particular moment.
And then it happened. My dad says, “Take a look.”
I turned around and saw a man walk up to this homeless man whom everyone else had avoided. I watched him extend his hand, shake his hand, and then sit down at the table with him. Within about 30 seconds, the man who sat down, stood back up and walked toward the front of the Chick-fil-A. 2 minutes later, that man came back to the table where the homeless man was with a bag of food in his hand. He set the food on the table, sat back down at the table, held hands, and prayed together. All of this was taking place in a Chick-fil-A. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
It wasn’t the fact that this man gave away some food. Anyone can flip a coin or throw a candy bar out the window. No… what I admired the most was that this Christian man SAW this man. He SAW him. He talked to him. He ensured him that he wasn’t invisible and worthless to the world. It might have been the first conversation this man had with another real person (not an imaginary person) in a decade. He didn’t see him as a drug addict or a dirty diseased vagrant. He saw him as God sees him. As someone who is worth a few minutes of attention.
The story of the good Samaritan is only significant because of the fact that this Samaritan took the time to help. He didn’t despise the man or simply throw a dollar his way and chalk it up as his good deed for the day. He put the guy on his horse, took him to the inn, and tried to help him heal. Jews were supposed to be the covenant people… and yet Jesus used a Samaritan as his example of Christlike love.
On another day and in another situation, I might have been the good Samaritan. But on this day, I sat there and watched like a Levite passing by on my way from Jerusalem to Jericho. That day, I became a first-class scribe, Pharisee, and a hypocrite. Just going to church and confessing Christ doesn’t make me or anyone else a Christian. Attending my meetings, paying my tithing, keeping the word of wisdom, and attending the temple is just a small part of what it takes to earn discipleship status. You could be the greatest scholar, a respected key holding leader, or the most charismatic teacher… but if the things you’ve studied doesn’t cause you to act in a way that reflects the things you are studying, then it is pointless and ineffective. A real Christian looks at people in the same way that Christ would look at them. He never sees them for less than what they are.
Sometimes I just need a reminder. Maybe I can provide a reminder for someone like that someday.
Now go figure… I went to Chick-fil-A a few days later and guess who is one table away from me? The good Samaritan. I had to tell him how grateful I was for his example. He graciously shook my hand… but in no way did he want any credit for what he had done. He didn’t want his name to be known.
So for now… he’s just a dude with a soft heart, who helped me remember that I should always look on others with compassion regardless of what I’m going through in my life. In doing so, I will be a much happier and fulfilled individual throughout the duration of my life.