His eyes were red and swollen, his white hair — an oily tangle — dangled over a leathered face. His shoeless toes poked from worn socks like scorched helmets trembling in foxholes. The moonless night could not hide his tattered clothes.
Sprawled along the courthouse steps, a homeless man was the lone figure obstructing my path after a long and difficult jury trial.
What could I do about him? After all, he was probably drunk, or dangerous. Besides, there are state agencies, shelters and hospitals that can assist the man. He’s somebody else's problem.
Through the fog of my excuses rang the clarion call of the Master’s words: "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in" (Matthew 25:35).
I bent down to ask the man his name. He mumbled. It was difficult to understand him through blistered gums and missing teeth.
I helped him to my car. I bought him a meal, a pair of shoes and some new clothes. I took him to a nearby inn and paid the motel clerk for two nights. I tried contacting his sister in a distant state, but the number the homeless man gave me was disconnected. I left him comfortable but not rescued.
In the years since that encounter, I have often chided myself for not doing more — for not caring more. What became of the man? I will never know.
On the downside of a thousand downtowns everywhere are those in need of rescue. They seek shelter under the neon crosses. Sacred steam wafts of soup breathed lean into lifeless men.
Yet, anguish of soul is not limited to the homeless. The brokenhearted cross our path at work, in our neighborhoods and in church callings.
Some need food, many need jobs, a few need medical and psychiatric care. All need spiritual comfort. They are our neighbors, our fellow travelers, and our brothers and sisters.
The jewelry store Santa
Years ago I witnessed the paradox of poverty on opposite street corners. On one corner was a ragged man holding a cardboard sign: "Will Work For Food — God Bless." While we may debate whether his need was genuine, consider the scene across the street: a kid in a Santa suit spinning a sign that read, "Huge Jewelry Sale — 50% Off."
Do we race to judgment when we see the work-for-food beggar but think nothing of racing into the jewelry store to charge the baubles to a credit card because we can?
The Good Samaritan
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Savior tells the poignant story of the hated Samaritan who cared for a robbery victim when others shunned the man (Luke 10:29-37). The Samaritan not only doctored the victim’s wounds and took him to an inn, but made provision for his care, promising to return and provide additional help.
In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin offers prophetic reason for bearing one another’s burdens: "And ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish... For behold, are we not all beggars?" (Mosiah 4:16,19).
The heart of rescue
A job for the jobless, encouragement to the downtrodden, or imparting what our time and talent permits: These things speak of who we are and not simply what we do. Rescue is not real when it sits idly on a welfare checklist. Real rescue is written in the charitable heart.
I can never return to that motel to check on the man I once helped but did not rescue. Older and perhaps wiser, I can be less judgmental and more loving toward those the Lord places in my path. I can make a difference — we can make a difference — one soul at a time.
Said the English poet John Donne: "Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee" (John Donne, "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions," XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris, 1623).
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches law and ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor for the QC Chandler Heights Stake, he is active in Interfaith and is a U.S. Air Force veteran.