It was rush hour. Cars were double parked; traffic snarled; drivers snarling. The man and his son were struggling with an oversized cupboard and were about to try to hoist it onto the roof of their station wagon.
''Let me give you a hand,'' a rough voice spoke out, and a stranger appeared from behind one of the parked cars. The fellow looked as if he hadn't shaved in ten days. His hair was disheveled and his clothes were scruffy.
''That would be great,'' the son answered. The stranger took a corner of the cupboard, and with a collection of grunts from the three men and a swing upward together, the huge piece was secured on top of the wagon.
''Thanks a lot,'' the man said as he shook the stranger's hand. ''We couldn't have done it without you.''
''Nothing better to do,'' the stranger said, and he quickly walked away.
The man and his son were my family, and as I watched the incident and later thought about it further, it took on interesting overtones.
At first I was intrigued by the incongruity - a gesture of friendship smack in the midst of a 5 p.m. rush hour charged with brittle tempers, noise, and pressure. Also, living in the city we had become accustomed to the seamier side of the human condition - trash-filled alleys, derelicts, and that chilly, learned wariness of strangers.
And now this stranger emerged to commit a conspicuous act of brotherly love. Why? I kept asking myself. What did it signify? Evidently he wasn't looking for a handout, because he disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. Did I dare take this isolated moment as valid evidence that a spirit of brotherly love still exists even in the most unlikely settings?
I thought of the words of the young man, Elihu, who declared in the drama of Job, ''There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.'' n1
n1 Job 32:8.
As I mused further, I began to realize that what had also touched me was a lesson in humility, a specific reminder not to judge others. My two men had been well dressed and probably would have been described by passers-by as respectable businessmen. The fellow who was the good Samaritan to them looked anything but respectable.
I felt meek as I thought of my unconscious habit of hoping to ignore the homeless people who roam the city instead of rightly including them in prayer. As a Christian I professed love, but more often I felt pity and apathy. Yet here was this spontaneous action, reminding me to obey Christ Jesus' command, ''Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.'' n2
n2 Matthew 19:19
''Nothing better to do,'' the fellow had commented. He might have been speaking lightly, tossing off one of those thoughtless expressions we all resort to. But ''there is a spirit in man'' kept echoing in my thought. The incident was a reminder to me that good is inherent in man. It is expectable because man, in reality, is the likeness of God, who is good.
Sometimes it takes only a small gesture to remind us of the power and joy of prayer - of acknowledging God's presence and man's goodness as His image. I had been stirred, and saw that within the daily network of family, business associates, and other contacts, I could try more consistently, and on a deeper level, to be aware of having literally ''nothing better to do'' than to love my neighbor and to confirm the spiritual nature of man, God's likeness.
Mary Baker Eddy, n3 who was a deep student of the Bible and an adherent of Christ Jesus' teachings and works, comments, ''Jesus regarded good as the normal state of man, and evil as the abnormal; holiness, life, and health as the better representatives of God than sin, disease, and death.'' n4
n3 Mrs. Eddy is the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science.
n4 Miscellaneous Writings, p. 200.
I continue to cherish the lesson that we never know quite when, motivated by the underlying power of God's goodness, someone may emerge along a crowded street to offer us help, no matter who we happen to be. DAILY BIBLE VERSE Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement John 7:24