The One Who Had Mercy

Friday I saw a man lying on the sidewalk.

His shopping bag apparently dropped from his hand when he fell.   It was lying just inches from his open hand as though the hand released its grip as he fell onto his side.

A woman, standing three feet from him, leaned slightly in his direction, her mouth moving as though talking to him. But, he did not move.  Still, he lay. On his right side, facing the street, eyes closed, head against the sidewalk. He did not move.  She seemed concerned, though uncertain and did not touch him.

I said aloud, “There’s a man lying on the sidewalk! He must have fallen…or something.” My mom looked, as did my daughter, but neither saw.

And, then the man and woman were gone as I and the car I drove was consumed by traffic and moved along toward my destination.

The image is as clear as the moment I saw them and will not leave me.  Perhaps, in telling I will be freed of it.

Perhaps…perhaps the better term is: confessing.

Friday was a day of errands and work.  I had a 1 pm appointment and was keeping a close eye on the time as I chauffeured my aged mom and 20-something daughter several places. Time grew short and I knew the remainder of errands would have to wait until after my appointment, so I turned the car toward home to deposit my riders, knowing I would make the appointment with about 10 minutes to spare.

As I drove, I kept an eye on traffic, which was heavy for the time of day.  12:30 – the lunch crowd was out and about taking care of errands and such so they could head home after work, I suppose.  For whatever reason, the road was congested with cars and trucks.  I was in the lane nearest the sidewalk.  As I approached an especially busy spot I noticed a young woman standing looking at something on the sidewalk below her.  I could see what appeared to be a white plastic Walmart type shopping bag laying as though it had been stretched out with its handles lying flat on the walkway.  And, there along side it and beyond it appeared to be clothing.

All of this took shape quickly as I approached at about 40 mph. I was upon the scene before I realized exactly what I was seeing.

It was a man – not just clothing. A tall slender man. And, the white bag was positioned exactly as it would have been had he set it on the ground and then leaned it to the side while continuing to hold onto the handles, and then released it. His hand, now empty lay open about 8 inches from the handles as though it had released its grip as the bag settled to the ground.

The man lay on his right side, bent somewhat at the waist with knees slightly bent as though he had been walking and suddenly toppled over onto his side.  His left arm was straight and slightly behind him with his open hand on the sidewalk near the bag.  His right shoulder was on the sidewalk and right arm appeared to be under his body – not in a position it would take if one had fallen and attempted to catch oneself. The right side of his head was on the sidewalk, his neck stretched as the weight of his head pulled downward and the height of his shoulder prevented it from resting fully on the ground.

His eyes were closed and his mouth slack. He didn’t move.

He looked dead.

My mind quickly wondered what had happened – he wasn’t lying as though he had tripped. He was lying as though he had just…gone down…as though the life or ability had left him – falling much as a rag-doll would fall.

The woman stood about 3 feet from him and bent at the waist, her mouth moving as I passed. She was talking and I assumed it was to him.  But he gave no response at all.

Within seconds I was beyond the pair and with traffic surrounding me, was unable to see in my rear view mirrors what was happening.

My first thought was “help him!”

My second was “pull over!”

My third was rushed and filled – “how? where? what of Mom?”

My fourth was “what of my appointment?”

My fifth as I drew farther from him was “I hope someone stops and helps him.”

I hope someone did because I did not.

If I’d been alone, would I have stopped? Would I have pulled into a parking lot and made my way to him? Would I have helped him?

I hope I would have – it breaks my heart that I did not.

I did not.  I didn’t even call 911 even though my cell phone was resting on my thigh. (I reasoned that all I could tell them was that a man was down and needed help, and give the street name – and then tell them I was new to town and unsure of anything else)

Odd, isn’t it, how we reason with ourselves and excuse our actions.

Or our inaction.

I see him, still.  And, I know I did NOTHING to help him.

NOTHING.

There is a story in the Bible – we call it the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  It’s one Jesus told. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of it.  Jesus was asked by a wise guy – who’s my neighbor? And, to answer, Jesus told this story.  There was a guy who was badly hurt.  Two religious people walked by and for whatever reason chose not to get involved…not to help.  A third guy – someone the religious people wouldn’t even give the time of day – stopped and helped the guy, even paid for his medical treatment.  At the end of the story, Jesus asked a question – which of these three was a neighbor to the man who was injured?  (The answer is found in the Bible in the book of Luke, chapter 10 and verse 37.)

“The one who had mercy on him.” That’s the answer given by the wise guy. Jesus’ reply to him was “go and do likewise.”

I call myself a Christian.  I claim to be a follower of Jesus. I say I love people.

But if this is any indication – I am none of the above.

God, forgive me.  I asked You to send someone who could help that man because I thought surely You didn’t mean for me to do so.  But, my heart tells me otherwise.

May this vision be ever burned in my mind and seared on my heart – may I always remember that I have a responsibility to all – even when it’s not convenient and even when I think someone else could or should be the one to act.

Forgive me for excusing my lack of involvement, for failing to act.

Help me to be ever mindful that when You say “love others”, You intend it as a verb.

Bless, LORD, the one who had mercy.

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