About a week ago, some guy named John Brantley shared an inspirational story on Facebook. I’m using his name because the story now has over a million shares, and it’s been featured on several news stations. The garish publicity is part of the silliness, and tragedy, of this whole situation, but suffice it to say that John has no issues with people knowing who he is. You can go on to Facebook and read the story here, and I highly encourage you to do that, but I’ll write up a short summary for your viewing pleasure.
John Brantley is walking to his car and sees a man digging through a dumpster, looking for food. This man isn’t begging, he isn’t talking to anyone else, he’s just minding his own business and picking discarded morsels out of the trash.
Saint John’s heart goes out to this homeless man, and decides to do him an enormous favor: Dinner at McDonald’s. So Steve the homeless man follows John to McDonald’s, and then John drives away. But John can’t shake the feeling that he should have done more for Steve.
So he turns around, goes back to Steve, and buys him some more McDonald’s. Then Steve reveals that he’s been homeless since his sister died a year ago, and then lifts up his shift and reveals a gut-wrenching tumor in his belly. Steve shares with John that he’s in great pain, that he hopes he dies soon, and that he is so grateful for John’s assistance. John asks Steve if he knows Jesus. Steve replies in the affirmative, and then they pray together. Steven informs John that he prayed for someone to bring him a hot meal, and Bam! As fast as Elijah sent the bears to kill the taunting lads, John shows up with a credit card and a big ol’ heart.
John then leaves Steve, and spends the rest of the post praising God for his greatness. What a generous God! His Almightiness sends John to buy Steve the cheapest meal on the block. But wait – He doesn’t stop there. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ also uses Steve to teach John to be more grateful for how blessed he is. John reiterates his feelings of being blessed several times before he ends his post. Then the gratuitous back-patting ends and we are left to vomit freely as we will.
The craziest thing about this post was actually not how self-congratulatory John is. People bust out their inner Pharisee all the time. I’m sure I’ve done it. But 1.2 MILLION people shared the story, and local news outlets picked it up. Praise God! Thank God for John! Thank God for Steve! I’m literally crying my eyes out! Praise McDonald’s! God is great! God is merciful! God loves salty french fries, and so do we!
Are you fucking kidding me?
Let’s just break this scenario down a little bit further.
John, who wants everyone to know what a good person he is, begins the story by asserting this: “My heart literally hurt for him. I am not someone who just hands out money or even helps homeless people because so many are not truly homeless.” So it’s not like John is leaking compassion for the homeless out the ears. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. John only feels Steve is worthy of his assistance because Steve isn’t bothering anybody and he isn’t begging. John believes that most homeless people aren’t “truly homeless” – whatever the fuck that even means. It takes Steve quietly digging through trash, looking for food, for John to feel moved enough to help his fellow man. And where does he take Steve? To a sit down restaurant? To a grocery story store filled with healthful foods? No. John takes Steve to McDonald’s, the cheapest possible place to buy a friend a meal. Christlike? You decide.
John and his groupies spend so much time jacking off to the idea of God using John as a tool to help Steve that they miss what are, to me, a few critical things.
- Steve. Is. Dying. Of Cancer.
- Steve is dying of cancer.
- STEVE IS IN GREAT PAIN AND HE’S DYING OF CANCER.
- God’s way of coping with this is sending John to buy him… McDonald’s.
- John worships a God who uses a homeless, dying man digging through garbage to teach John about how “blessed” he is.
- God blesses John more than Steve.
- Steve is dying of cancer.
So this wonderful, caring God who blesses John with great abundance is happy to see Steve’s cancerous belly full of hot, fatty food, and that’s where His goodness stops. That to me is not one Facebook share-worthy. It’s certainly not 1.2 million shares worthy.
What would have been really incredibly is if, instead of asking Steve if he knew Jesus, John had said, “Hey, Steve. Do you know any local medical practitioners? Do you know that there are clinics who can provide discounted services for poor people suffering from terminal disease? Steve, do you need help finding these places? Do you need help finding a regular source of healthy food? Can I help you live out the remainder of your life in slightly better living conditions?”
But no. John was so busy gawking at how fucking blessed he is that he walks away, practically breaking his arm so vociferously does he pat himself on the back, leaving Steve to return to the same place he was before he met him. And, apparently, everybody in the whole world thinks John was sent by God to bless Steve.
I have issues with the concept of being blessed in the first place. Any good Christian knows that blessings come along with being righteous, obedient, and recognizing God’s love. No matter how much you believe God loves his children, as a Biblical Christian, you accept as fact (or allegory, whatever) that God pretty consistently blesses those who believe in him and follow his word, and punishes those who don’t. It’s the biblical modus operandi: Good folks, even the unfortunate Job, get rewarded. Bad folks get Sodom and Gomorrahed.
God bestows blessings on whom he sees fit, and in this case, God wanted to remind John of how blessed he is. John has food. John has a home. John has never dug through garbage to find what he needs. And rather than John thinking, “Wow! I am extremely grateful, and recognize the factors that have led to the difference between Steve’s lifestyle and my own, most of which are entirely out of my control!” John thinks, “God blesses me sooooo much!” (and presumably follows all of his thoughts with, like, so many heart-eyed emojis).
Worse than this is John’s finishing words: “Sometimes God sends situations our way to remind us of how blessed we are! … Yes, I have been blessed, God’s so good to me! … God has been good, so good! I have been blessed!”
In John’s bizarre universe, not only is he more blessed than Steve, but Steve exists to teach John a lesson that makes John feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Steve’s purpose in this interaction is to bless John even further. Steve functions in this seriously fucked up role of being impoverished and miserable, so John can realize how much God loves him, Boniface John, the chosen and cancer-free one.
So yeah. That about sums up how shitty this stupid post by John is. And if you want me to give John some credit for buying Steve food, I will. It was nice. John did a nice thing for Steve. Good John! That’s a very good John! And even though I’ll lose a few friends by admitting I wouldn’t mind if a stranger bought me a meal at McDonald’s, I will say that John probably did more in that situation than your average Christian would have. It was nice for John to go back and buy Steve more food on a gift card, and it was nice for John to talk to Steve and try to comfort him.
But Christ almighty, 1.2 million shares? And none of the commenters, not one, felt inspired to do anything but pray for Steve and praise the Lord. I’m guessing those prayers haven’t done much to change Steve’s living situation. I’m guessing the Lord hasn’t done much to change it either. Just a whole lot of people with tears in their eyes who feel mighty blessed.
Now I’ll admit that, more than once, I have seen something and been reminded of how truly lucky I am. It’s important to remained grounded by gratitude, and unfortunately, one of the easiest ways of doing that is by seeing those who have much less than we. What better way to act upon that gratitude than by going out of our way to help others, privately, without boasting? In Matthew 6:3, we find one of the most useful lessons in the Bible: “But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does.” I’m not sure if the author of Matthew exactly foresaw John repeatedly high-fiving himself like one of those little wind-up monkeys, but the boot fits.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, but I think it bears repeating: Stop praying. Start doing. You’ll notice that billions of prayers have never made a dent in poverty and hunger. You know what has? People getting off their prayer-sore knees and doing something about it. And John, on the off chance that you read this, I dare you to go back, find Steve, and actually do something that will change his life more than satiating his hunger for a day or two. And then keep it to yourself.