God is Your Neighbor: He Just Doesn’t Look Like You Thought
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”From the story of Luke 10:25-37
I have the awkward privilege of caring about Michael. It is a strange friendship that always needs explaining. I have become his voice to bankers and detectives, lawyers and prison wardens. It is not something I care to do in my spare time. And I can’t see how it will possibly have a happy ending. But here we go.
It started with a story. It always does, doesn’t it? You know the story; the one of the school shooter, who slipped in the front door of an elementary school with an AK-47 and a backpack full of ammunition and by the grace of God was talked into laying that gun down as helicopters circled overhead and swat teams reloaded their rifles. School shooters never live to tell their tale. Michael did. So someone needed to talk to him. That would be me.
I am a woman who loves pretty things and happy endings. Doris Day and Cary Grant; throw some light humor in along the way. How did I end up passing through the razor wire and metal detectors to wait for a convicted criminal to walk into the room?
Well, you see, the script was written, but we thought there needed to be the shooter’s side of the story. Why did he do it? And what made him decide to abandon his plans after a few kind words from the bookkeeper? My legs shook as I waited for him to arrive. I prayed that I wouldn’t throw up.
He was younger and softer than I expected. His prison uniform was worn and dirty; his hands pale and sweating, with still tender pink scars at his wrists. Something about him seemed childlike. And very lost.
I started with the most basic of questions. Every one was answered with either a “Yes, Ma’am.” Or a “No, Ma’am.”
His letters over the past 9 months, as we waited for my approval to visit him, had scrawled out in very remedial, broken sentences. A boyhood of physical abuse, rape, and psychiatric residential homes.
He had written of dying in an apartment fire, but being revived by firemen breaking through the second story window. I am stating it much clearer now than his letters had. Sitting across from me, he pointed to the tracheotomy scar on his throat.
He rocked back and forth anxiously. He devoured the soft drinks and hamburger I bought him from the vending machines. And we finally got around to that day of the school shooting.
I am slowly starting to put together the pieces of this boy who just may be more terrified than terrifying.
“So, you set the fire in your apartment because you wanted to die?”
“And you slit your wrists here in prison because you want to die whenever your medication is off?”
“Michael, did you want to kill the children in the school that day?”
“Oh, no Ma’am, I would never do that!”
“Michael, did you go to that school with a gun because you wanted the police to kill you?”
Okay. The storyline just shifted. The character of the angry would-be killer just slid with an ugly jar into a very alone young man who had been born into the wrong world, tied up with schizophrenia, and dropped with a thud from mental illness into the state penitentiary. And the world continued to spin along without him, not noticing he was gone.
Michael, for me, suddenly became the beaten and naked neighbor in the ditch. The people, who have seen him there, have passed him by. I didn’t want to, but I have stopped to bandage some of his wounds. Orphaned. Demon-possessed. Imprisoned. Night is here and we need to find a safe place for him to heal.
Questions: Have you ever had God take you into an uncomfortable relationship? Have you ever encountered someone who was completely, hopelessly alone? What did you do?
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)
Below are my notes to the scriptwriter before my decision to reach out to Michael to hear his side of the story…