A few weeks ago on the way to our family picnic, I noted several state troopers on the side of the road. Each one busily issued a citation to a motorist who likely “pushed the limit” a bit too vigorously. After offering thanks for my husband’s reasonable driving, I considered a similar encounter of twenty-two years ago…
Our son Tim and his dad had set out for Wisconsin. They stopped for gas and hurried back on the road. My husband hopped into the car and sped off without giving a thought to his or Tim’s seatbelt. A block from the gas station, Mike noticed flashing lights in his rearview mirror. Before he could ask himself, “What in the world?” he realized what was wrong. “Oh no! Our seat belts! Put on your seatbelt, Tim!” Mike said as he pulled over. When the trooper approached the car, Mike asked, “Is there a problem, Officer?” The man looked at my husband and son whose seatbelts were now precisely where they should be. Then the officer asked, “Did you have those seatbelts buckled back there when you pulled out of that gas station?” Poor Mike, who at the moment wanted nothing in this world less than a traffic ticket, answered with great reluctance, “No, sir.”
I admit to being extremely pleased that my husband took the high road by telling the officer the truth. Mike could have lied to avoid a ticket which would have given him and Tim something to chuckle about on their way up north. This lie would also have given our son a terrible lesson regarding honesty. Ultimately, that single lie would also have tarnished Mike’s spirit a bit. Every lie makes the next one easier to tell, chipping away at ones honesty until there isn’t enough left to recognize.
I share this adventure with you because it speaks to the heart of a passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-37). A scholar of the law asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus replied with a question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The scholar answered that we must love God and our neighbor. Jesus complimented the scholar for identifying the means to eternal life. Unfortunately, the scholar was not satisfied with Jesus’ reply, so he persisted by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus offered the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to care for a man at the side of the road who was left for dead by robbers. Though a passing priest and a Levite not only ignored the man, but also crossed the road so as not to be contaminated by him, this Samaritan stopped to help. When Jesus asked who was neighbor to the injured man, the scholar acknowledged that the neighbor was the one who treated the man with mercy. Jesus ended this exchange by telling the scholar, “Go and do likewise.”
Though we do not know the impact of Jesus’ story upon the scholar, we can assess the impact Jesus’ story has upon us. The Samaritan’s remarkable compassion caused him not to hesitate in responding to the wounded man. He not only dressed his wounds, but also delivered the man to an inn to recuperate. The Samaritan left money to provide for the man’s care and promised to repay the innkeeper for any additional costs incurred. It seems to me that this Samaritan could have no more left this man to die than his own mother or spouse or child. His spirit -his soul- impelled him to respond.
As I reflect upon the goodness which defined the Samaritan, I wonder what defined the priest and Levite who left the man to die. What drove them to value ritual purity more than they valued the life of a fellow person? What allows any of us to walk by, to step over or to run across the road from a dying brother or sister?
Most of us will never encounter a scene which demands action as dramatically as that man on the side of the road. Still, life offers us frequent opportunities to strengthen our spirits by choosing to do what we know is right. Each good deed becomes part and parcel of who we are –like the honestly which caused Mike to tell the good officer the truth that day so long ago…
Just for the record, the officer ended this encounter by sharing that had Mike lied in front of his son, he would have awarded him with a citation. Since Mike did the right thing, the officer let him go with only a stern warning regarding seatbelts.
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved