Bare Buttocks, Barren Soul

[As a follow-up to Wednesday’s post, here is one from the archives on a time my son and I found ourselves challenged to help a stranger.]

***

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 – 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.

***

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13 Responses to Bare Buttocks, Barren Soul

  1. David says:

    Mother Teresa described the poor and the sick as “Jesus in his distressing disguise.” I am glad you had this opportunity to be healed by God’s grace present in another’s distress, and you own.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for re-running this post, Tim — it’s very powerful. I think it’s good to be reminded of our own weaknesses at times like this, so we don’t become proud, always seeing ourselves as the helpers and thankful that we’re not like others.

    • Tim says:

      Being confronted with weakness is threatening, I think because it shows us our own frailty. It’s not a comfortable feeling.

      I almost didn’t write about this event back when the post first ran. I told Aimee Byrd about this lunch I had with my son and she told me I couldn’t not write about it. So I did. I’m glad we bloggers stick together, Jeannie.

  3. keriwyattkent says:

    This is great, Tim. So powerful. Since I am often the Bible word geek around here, here’s my offering. The text says that Jesus reached out and “touched” the man. We tend to think of Jesus sort of poking him, or maybe laying his fingertips on his shoulder or maybe his head. I think that’s not accurate. The word in Matthew 8 (and in parallel passages) is haptomai. Primary meaning? “to fasten one’s self to, adhere to, cling to” (Strong’s concordance). He hugged, he embraced, the guy with an icky, communicable disease. Even though you struggled with it, you followed Jesus there, to bring healing with a touch. It’s not always pretty, but even confronting that revulsion you felt later was a chance to grow in Christlikeness. Awesome story.

    • Tim says:

      The word study on haptomai is really helpful, Keri. I’ve heard my wife teach on that passage and she speaks of Jesus reaching right onto the sores and holding on as he heals the man. She didn’t know the original Greek but she knows Jesus’ character. Our savior is not only alongside us but in us. The incarnation and indwelling of Christ are both beautiful.

  4. Dee Parsons says:

    This was beautiful. I think your thoughts and actions make a startling contrast to the words of ESPN’s Britt McHenry making fun of a woman’s weight, her lack of teeth and education.
    http://mashable.com/2015/04/16/espn-britt-mchenry/

    • Tim says:

      That’s a sad episode. Ms. McHenry enjoys a position of privilege and vented her frustration on a woman who does not share those privileges. I don’t watch ESPN but I imagine they are evaluating whether to allow Ms. McHenry to return after the one week suspension.

  5. Bev Murrill says:

    God help us, Tim. We so want to be like Jesus, but when we get up close and personal, we can’t help but feel it deep in our souls.

    It makes you wonder what it must have been like leaving heaven in all its beauty, purity that didn’t have to be sanitised to get that way but was just always that way, and arrive on earth clad in a sac of amniotic fluid and go downhill from there. We think of the revulsion of touching lepers, but in comparison to heavenly beings and heaven itself, anything must have had the power to make him feel that way… Thank God for Jesus, who didn’t draw back but walked through those 33 years without any sign of revulsion at anything except religious hypocrisy!

    Another great article, mate!

    • Ruth says:

      Wow Bev,that last sentence about what Jesus showed revulsion at….really nailed it I think! Sure I read you post about Narre Warren…..just up the road from me. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      God’s choice to be among us – the Incarnation – is one of the most powerful examples of his love that I know of.

  6. Well done, Brother. That man you helped? It could’ve been a dear friend of mine, who has now passed beyond the reach of Earthly cares. Or several other people I know, who struggled or still struggle, with addiction.

    That man is someone’s son. Perhaps a brother. An uncle. A grandfather. Someone, somewhere, falls asleep at night with tears, wondering where he is now, and if he’s still alive.

    Thank you for reaching out, and for being the hero he needed in that moment.

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