There he was, staggering on the sidewalk at 7:00 a.m. as I drove past him on my way to work. I almost said out loud, “Thank you, Lord, that I’m not like that man.” I was glad I wasn’t plagued by alcohol as he seemed to be.
While teaching that day, I couldn’t concentrate on my classes. That man kept staggering in and out of my mind. I thought, "Maybe the principal can find a substitute for me." Questions continued to pull my attention from the students. Should I have stopped and offered to take him home? What would a few minutes have mattered?
I felt miserable. I couldn’t eat lunch. I prayed and prayed the entire day that my attitude wouldn’t be like the Pharisee who prayed in the temple courtyard, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers –” even like this inebriated man (Luke 18:11). I fought the similarity between me and that Pharisee.
When I drove home that afternoon past where the man had been, I pulled over and let the car idle. I could still “see” that needy man, swaying back and forth. Talk about guilt. He should have known better than to drink himself senseless. At I sat, my eyes glued to the empty sidewalk, the scene played out like a rerun of a movie. I saw the brown bag twisted tight around a whiskey bottle. As he fell, the bag flew from his hand and hit the sidewalk. At first, I thought he had soiled himself. Then I saw the liquid wetting the concrete like an open fan. It felt like a rancher had branded my conscience.
My head ached. I wanted to pray: “God, be a film editor, and let this scene end up on the cutting floor.”
Stop to help him? Suppose a colleague from my school passed by and saw me. What would he think? I’d be embarrassed, helping a drunk man. It was then that my conscience compounded my guilt by comparing me to the priest and the Levite who had passed a wounded man “on their sidewalk.” (See Luke 10:30-37) A helpless man, beaten and robbed, left for dead; a helpless man, liquor-drenched, left disoriented. Like the others, I passed my chance to show compassion and missed an opportunity to be Jesus to someone in desperate need.
But he needed help. It wouldn’t have required me to empty my pockets of money, only empty myself of a little time. If only I had!
I rationalized that I had pressing schedules and commitments to meet. I know I did, yet why didn’t I help? Although I was ashamed to admit it, I knew the answer. Because my indifferent heart held no compassion, no deep concern for a needy individual. Honestly, I just didn’t care.
I sat there and literally beat my chest like the tax collector: “I am not worthy to look up. Forgive me.” Then I vowed if I ever passed another needy person, I’d stop my car, “bind up the wounds,” and take him to the nearest “inn.”
I was a Pharisee for a day. That was far too long, for, except for God’s mercy, I could have been that man who was passed by, lying in his own stench.