Driving past the supermarket, I saw an old woman, burdened with groceries, struggling down the footpath. Pulling up to a red light at the intersection, I watched with dismay as she fell into some bushes beside the path. Quickly parking, I ran to see if she needed help.
By the time I arrived, I noticed that her shopping bags had broken; she was dazed and sitting on the curb. “Are you all right?” seemed a reasonable question. But her response was incomprehensible. Maybe she didn’t speak English. On closer inspection she didn’t seem any older than me. “Can I help you?” I asked.
This time the response was definitely English, just muffled and slurred— something like “I’m not doing so well.” Thinking back to all I’d heard about people having strokes, I put my hand on her shoulder to steady her swaying body and asked if I could call an ambulance.
That question seemed to confuse her. But now that I was close, she turned to look at me with eyes wide open. The odor on her breath told me all I needed to know. Still, maybe her “alcohol breath” meant she was experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis. “Have you been drinking?”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, then slowly nodded.
How wrong my initial judgment had been! This wasn’t an old woman suffering the infirmities of age; this was a middle-aged woman who had been drinking and couldn’t navigate the sidewalk. In my sheltered life I don’t encounter many people like that, and I struggled to think what I should do. She couldn’t be left there in the gutter beside the road; it was far too dangerous. Should I call the police and have them take care of the situation? That may have been the easiest solution—maybe the smartest one too—but it somehow didn’t seem right.
I told her to stay where she was, and ran back to my car for some replacement bags to hold her groceries. While I was repacking frozen cheesecake, a gallon of milk, chips, and other junk food, it was hard not to be judgmental. This was clearly someone not making the best choices in life.
As I worked, she told me that she lived a block away, but she couldn’t remember the address. I asked if I could carry her groceries home for her, and that’s how I found myself walking hand in hand through the middle of my town with a woman too impaired to walk unaided, wondering what my fellow church members would think if they saw me.
As we made slow progress, I asked her name. It took several garbled attempts before I understood that it was Sharon;* at least I think it was Sharon; it could have been Shannon, Susan, or a very slurred Rebecca.
Then she told me something that came out with clarity and pathos: her best friend had just died. Who knows if that was true? Maybe this was a standard excuse she used whenever she was drunk in public, but it worked with me. This was a fellow human being; someone with a name, who understood the meaning of love and realized the pain of loss.
NOT SO FAST
After an awkward public hug and loud declaration that I was the best person she had ever met, I walked back to my car with much on my mind. Sharon’s life is completely foreign to me, and I can’t imagine the series of events that led to someone drunkenly staggering home late one morning with frozen cheesecake, milk, and chips.
It’s easy to dismiss people whose lives are so different from our own, and almost automatic to think in terms of “them,” not us. Somehow “they” are less valuable than those of us who live the health reform message, understand the Bible’s prophecies, and generally enjoy sober, comfortable, middle-class lives.
Encountering the humanity of those we don’t understand is confrontational. Everyone feels love, loss, grief, and joy as we do. The uncompromising equality revealed in Scripture encourages us to see this. When we start to feel somehow better than others, the Bible reminds us, “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22). In fact, Scripture history reveals this in stark clarity. We celebrate heroes of the faith because of the great things they did. But Noah drank to excess (Gen. 9:21); Solomon says that he sought “to gratify my flesh with wine” (Eccl. 2:3). All fell short.
Reality is at least four dimensional, and the Bible shatters systems of thinking that place humans into one dimensional “us” and “them” categories.
The very beginning of Scripture lucidly reveals that our ancestry leads back to Adam and Eve. They fell short, just as we do, but all humanity is related through this couple. There is a profound significance to this that is pointed out in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus when he lists, finally, “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Adam, the father of us all, had a Father, the Creator of all things. Adam’s sin may have separated humanity from God, but Jesus Christ, the Son of man, restored us as “children of God” (1 John 3:1).
On Creation Sabbath, the fourth Sabbath of every October, let’s reexamine our understanding of biblical Creation. Have we given lip service while still entertaining unbiblical ideas about fellow humans created in God’s image, possibly even fellow believers? Creation leads logically to a radical and humbling egalitarianism. Every neighbor to whom we think ourselves superior, everyone we despise for their ancestry, every homeless addict, every desperate refugee struggling to survive, every murderer on death row, the Creator God values each of us so much that He gave His own life to save us— and us, not us and “them.”
Every human, no matter who they are or what they have done, was created in God’s image, with an identical claim on our Creator’s grace. God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Creation Sabbath is for us to share this gospel of grace in deeds, not just words, especially with the “Sharons” and other neighbors among us who struggle and thirst for hope and love.
“A new commandment I give to you,” said Jesus, “that you love one another” (John 13:34).
For more information about Creation Sabbath and practical ideas on how to promote and plan this special day, visit creationsabbath.net.
* Not the actual name she gave, or at least I think she gave.