Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stay Off the Other Side of the Road

Remember the movie "The Elephant Man"? I had the unfortunate opportunity to view this heartbreaking film when I was about 12 or 13. It's about a man named John Merrick who was stricken by congenital disease that left him terribly disfigured. The terrible pain and rejection this poor man must have gone through in his life was unbearable to watch even as an outsider. It's all the more difficult when you realize that the story of John Merrick really happened.

I'll never forget Mr. Merrick wailing "I am not an animal! I am a human being!" My heart hurts for him even when I remember the simple cinematic re-enactment. I don't know how I would have dealt with it in real life. What if I had known him? Would I have shown him compassion, mercy, grace? Or, would I have avoided him and assumed that someone else was his friend, someone else would take care of him, someone else will show him love. I can only hope that I would have been kind.

It brings to mind the story that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan when He was asked the question "Who is my neighbor?" A guy is on his way somewhere when he is viciously attacked and left for dead by a group of bandits. A priest and a temple assistant both pass him by without offering any assistance. The folks that you think would be first in line to help just passed by on the other side of the road!

"Someone else will handle it."

These two frauds, religious position and all, simply wrote him off. So who ends up helping? The least likely person - a despised Samaritan. He even pays for the injured guys rehabilitation without seeking repayment. Jesus concluded that the true neighbor was the one who showed mercy, and told his inquisitor to go and do likewise.

In the movie, there is also a Good Samaritan. Dr. Frederick Treves reluctantly takes in Mr. Merrick and helps him regain some dignity in his last days. Even though he had his faults, I admire the good doctor for showing mercy to someone in an extremely difficult condition.

We all have John Merricks in our lives. Maybe they aren't physically deformed, but they have some ugly problems. I have to ask myself, am I going to be repulsed by their spiritual, emotional, or mental defect and pass on the other side of the road? Or, am I going to realize that I too am in need of grace and mercy because of MY many flaws? I realize that in God's eyes, I am nothing more than filthy rags - a grotesque perversion of the original plan for humanity. But God didn't pass me by. He walked over, picked me up, put me back on my feet, and is still walking beside me today - defects and all.

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