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Latham: It's a bad time to be a Pharisee

Jan. 2, 2018 at 10:04 p.m.


I got all duded-up on New Year's Eve, or at least about as fancy as I ever get: Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.

Indeed, it was about the same attire I had worn for actual church earlier in the day when the pastor pressed forth the uncomfortable parable of the Good Samaritan. It must be about the first of Jesus' stories every child hears.

Then we hear it over and over and over again. For some reason, though, it never seems to sink in for most of Christendom, including me too much of the time.

Go figure. That's the way it is for a lot of Jesus' teaching: sounds easy, actually hard.

I was on my way to hear the Fort Worth Symphony and the music of Ella Fitzgerald, a complete switch from my usual New Year's Eve routine of staring dully at the television set until I fall asleep.

By mere chance, the route took me by the house that Ron and Debbie Hall and Denver Moore built: Fort Worth's Union Gospel Mission, a place designed to feed the homeless and give them a place to sleep for the night.

The Union Gospel Mission did not actually originate with those three, of course. It has been a part of the Fort Worth landscape for more than 125 years. But those three gave the fortunes of the mission a definite boost by publishing the remarkable book "The Same Kind of Different as Me" in 2006.

The bump in donations paid for the previously crumbling building to be renovated and expanded. Growing up in Fort Worth, I was told repeatedly to avoid the Union Gospel Mission area. Today, I imagine parents are saying just about the same thing to their children.

If you haven't noticed, the face of homelessness is ugly to look upon. Hollywood, in its infinite imagination, cannot come up with a horror any worse.

And on New Year's Eve, it was more frightening than I'd ever seen it.

We passed through the area just before dinner was to be served. The wind chill was already in the teens, destined to fall near zero by morning.

Several hundred people huddled over a two-block area trying to escape the wind, waiting for a hot meal that might satisfy their hunger for a night. That was enough. These people were not looking to be saved in any form or fashion.

Just fed.

"Feed us, please. Bring us in from the cold." You could see it written on every face. It could not happen soon enough.

I drove through the area at about 40 mph, my eyes on the road.

Later, getting ready to eat a sumptuous meal before going to the symphony, I was having trouble finding a parking place among the other revelers of the night. I pulled in one parking lot, only to be turned away.

It seems as if there was no room for my kind. I was going to the wrong restaurant and had no valet parking privileges.

I pulled in another lot and parked, ready to stick my money in a slot when a homeless man approached with help.

"You can park on the street for nothing," he told me. He pointed out a perfect parking place.

It was a nice thing for him to do with nothing more than a flimsy hope that it might help him get some food. Still, I slipped him a couple of bucks, which I am sure assuaged my guilt much more than his gnawing hunger.

The preacher's words clanged in my ears all night. I don't often make resolutions to begin the year but one would surely be worthy: It's time to stop being a Pharisee.

— Phil Latham is editor emeritus of the News-Journal. His column appears Wednesday. Email platham@news-journal.com

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