There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, "Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back." -Luke 10:30-35, The MessageAlmost everyone knows the story of the Good Samaritan. Even if you've never been to Christian church in your life, you could probably give a pretty good rendering of the story. A guy gets messed up by some bad guys, and they leave him to die on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite walk past him (doesn't this sound like the beginning of a bad joke?), and you'd think that they would stop to help him, but all they're worried about is becoming unclean after having contact with this half-dead man. Then, a Samaritan comes by. Now, Samaritans were basically the most ritually unclean people you could find back in the day. Jews didn't want to have anything with them because they were part Gentile. The Gentiles wouldn't touch them because they were part Jewish. So the Samaritans really understood what it meant to be passed over. It's nice to think that that's why the Samaritan stopped; he had seen these two religious leaders totally ignore the guy, and he knew what it felt like to be ignored for pretty surface reason. But I'm not a biblical scholar, so I can't make any bold claims about why the Samaritan stopped; we just know that he did. He helped this poor guy out and followed up with him, paying for any additional cost, not just pawning him off on the next willing participant in this story. The story of the Good Samaritan is lifted up as the paradigm of Christian brotherly/sisterly love: that we would help someone because they need help, putting our own concerns (like cleanliness or cash flow) second to their immediate and long-term needs.
Today, I had to go to the library to copy some pages out of a book for a paper I need to write. As I was walking back to my apartment in the rain, I saw a man standing in front of my building with two large bags, the straps crossed in an X across his chest. I didn't recognize him, and even six weeks in, I can at least remember seeing almost everyone at the seminary. So I was a little wary. As I got closer, he called out to me and asked if I was a student here. I said yes, and he proceeded to tell me his dilemma.
He needs to get to Chambersburg (a town about 30 minutes away) because his brother is picking him up there tonight. He stayed in Gettysburg last night, but it was too expensive to stay a second night, so he's going to just hang out in Chambersburg until his brother arrives. But as he was driving out of Gettysburg, his car broke down and he can't afford to get it fixed. He wants someone to drive him to Chambersburg, and he'll give that person $10 for gas. He asked the "pastor" if he could help (my friend was supply preaching in a congregation this morning, and thus was wearing his clerics while he took another student's dog for a quick walk), but the pastor said he was too busy. He just wants to know if anyone can give him a ride so he doesn't have to stand out in the rain. One of the large bags is a $2,000.00 breathing machine that the VA bought for him, but if it gets ruined, they're not just going to buy him a new one. Can someone please give him a ride?
I agreed to go inside and ask if anyone would be able to give him a ride. This is where the guilt set in. In reality, all I have to do today is work on some homework, watch the Ravens beat the Browns and go to a church thing later this evening. Do I have an hour to drive someone to Chambersburg and back? Absolutely. But let's break down this situation and what was going through my head:
I have never seen this guy before, his broken down car is nowhere in sight (he said some old man let him push it into his yard), he's got two sketchy looking bags with unknown contents, and if I'm being honest, he just looked pretty shady in general. So am I going to invite him into my car and take him to a small town 25 miles away on a rainy Sunday? Not likely. But will I go inside and alert someone else to the situation? Sure.
I went upstairs and heard a male voice, so I figured that was a good place to start. Three seniors (two girls, one guy) were just sitting down to watch a football game, and I gave them the rundown. The guy, D, affirmed the creepiness of the situation, and the girls agreed. However, D agreed to go back down with me and talk to the guy. D was very upfront with him, and told him that the situation sounded shady, especially because the guy told us that neither he nor his brother had cell phones or any way to get in touch with one another. After some more back-and-forth, D agreed to take the guy to Chambersburg, rejecting the gas money the guy offered.
I went inside to tell the girls that D was taking this guy to his destination, and they were just as concerned as I was. We agreed that it was better that D was taking him than if a girl were, because there are just too many red flags for that to be a good idea. I expressed my guilt over the situation to the girls (M & K), saying that I just kept running the Good Samaritan story through my head. That I wanted to be a good and faithful Christian who would sacrifice her own concerns for the needs of the other, but I couldn't shake the creeped out feeling, even if the guy's situation was legitimate.
Then K said something that stuck with me. She said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "I think we forget that, in the Good Samaritan story, the guy on the side of the road was half dead. He wasn't a threat to anyone at that point...except for the priest and religious leader who didn't want to become ritually unclean." Great point, K.
So here's my theological-but-practical point for the day: be smart. Yeah, as Christians (or just as human beings, really), we should try and help those who need it. But if you think that a situation could be unsafe, don't abandon all common sense for the sake of living up to the Good Samaritan. Because how can I be faithful to the Gospel if I blindly put myself in danger without considering the circumstances? God wants us to help people, but God also wants us to stay alive, and finding that balance is necessary. If D hadn't offered to take the guy where he needed to go, I probably would have grabbed a friend and asked him or her to come with me, to be safe. Could we still have gotten into a shady situation? Sure, but because we were smart, it would be a whole lot less likely. So I beg of you, make good choices that aren't just for the benefit of someone else but also ensure your safety...God gave us the gift of common sense for a reason!
NB: I just got a facebook message saying D is safe and on his way back. He gets the Modern Day Good Samaritan award today.