After the funeral and burial of a dear friend’s brother, we stopped for lunch at a nearby restaurant. This small group included our friend’s family and my husband and me. When we gathered at the table, I sat across from Mike and between a fourteen-year-old boy and his uncle. Because I hadn’t seen this young man since he was a little boy, I expected our conversation to be awkward at best. I’m happy to share that I was proven wrong just minutes into our exchange. Billy and I quickly discovered our common knowledge of my childhood neighborhood in Chicago. Apparently, Billy and his dad drive through my old stomping grounds when they visit extended family in the city. As Billy and I talked, he shared stories from his dad’s childhood which have become part of his own history. I responded with accounts of a few of my Chicago adventures which have also become part and parcel of who I am today.
By the time we parted ways, I realized that Billy has developed very strong feelings regarding many things as a result of his dad’s experiences and his own, especially our responsibility to step in to help when someone is in trouble. Apparently, his dad’s experiences and recent news reports contributed to this assessment. In Billy’s mind, this is the only logical response to a person in need. I admit that I share Billy’s conviction in this regard. I lived through similar events with my mom who habitually stepped in to see to the basic needs or safety of others. Billy seemed not to be surprised that my mom intervened in a fight on a bus. “That’s the only way you can keep people from getting hurt,” he observed. “Good for your mom!” he added. When we parted ways after that day, I offered a prayer of gratitude for this encounter and for Billy. I also added two requests: That someone like Billy intervenes the next time I’m in trouble and that I have the courage to do the same for someone else.
I think Billy’s sense of responsibility speaks to the heart of Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-37). Luke tells us that a scholar of the law asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus replied with a question of his own: “What is written in the law?” The scholar answered that we must love God and our neighbor. Jesus complimented the man for identifying the means to eternal life. Unfortunately, the scholar wasn’t satisfied with Jesus’ reply, so he persisted by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” It was then that Jesus offered the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to care for a man at the side of the road who had been left for dead by robbers. A passing priest and a Levite not only ignored the man, but also crossed the road so as not to be contaminated by him. Their concern over the law regarding ritual cleanliness -staying away from defiled people and things- kept them from helping a fellow traveler. The Samaritan, considered to be an enemy of the community, stopped to help. When Jesus asked who was neighbor to the injured man, the scholar admitted that the Samaritan had acted as a neighbor. Jesus ended this encounter by telling the scholar, “Go and do likewise.”
Though we don’t know how the scholar responded to Jesus’ story, we can determine our own responses. The Samaritan’s remarkable compassion compelled him to help the wounded man. He dressed his wounds and delivered the man to an inn to recuperate. He left money to provide for the man’s care and promised to repay the innkeeper for any additional costs. It seems to me that the Samaritan could have no more left this man to die than his own mother or spouse or child. His compassionate heart urged him to do something. As I consider the goodness which defined the Samaritan, I wonder what defined the priest and the 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 brother or sister in need?
Most of us will never encounter a scene which demands action as dramatically as that dying man on the side of the road. I hope Billy and all of us never have to step into situations like those his dad, my mom and recent people in the news have endured. At the same time, I do hope that Billy and the rest of us embrace life’s frequent opportunities to do what we know is right when we encounter someone in need. Each good deed will become part and parcel of who we are. Eventually, we’ll find it impossible to avoid stepping up because helping has become second nature to us. Eventually, we’ll all become compassionate Samaritans as well.
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