The front axle on my car broke while I was driving on a hilly, two-lane road a few weeks ago. It was nighttime. I was stranded and felt helpless.
I put on my emergency flashers, got out of the car and waved the others around me while fishing the AAA card from my wallet to call for a tow. Two people stopped and offered to help me push my car to the shoulder of the road.
We were on a hill. We couldn’t push hard enough to even budge it. I thanked them, and they went on their way.
Soon, three young men in an SUV pulled up behind me. One of them was a mechanic. They offered to tow me up the hill to a church parking lot where I’d be out of harm’s way until the AAA tow truck arrived.
I was grateful and touched by their kindness. They didn’t have to stop, but they decided to take the time to help a stranger stranded by the side of the road.
Kind of a parable. And it took an uncomfortable twist.
They stopped to help
The young men pulled their SUV in front of my car so they could connect it to their hitch. They had a bumper sticker that made it clear we have a sharp disagreement on an issue that’s dear to my heart.
In that instant, my gratitude was muted. Why couldn’t the person who stopped to help me be someone, well, more like me?
As I watched them crawl under my car to hook it up, I realized how prone I was to make assumptions about them. Instead of merely appreciating their kindness, I’d judged them based upon a bumper sticker.
Which made me re-think the famous parable.
The story of the good Samaritan starts with two devoutly religious men who pass by a bleeding man, offering nothing more than thoughts and prayers. They’ve drawn lines in their minds – who’s worthy of their help, who’s not – that allow them to ignore someone in need.
Along comes the Samaritan, someone on the wrong side of so many people’s imaginary lines, and he’s moved to do the compassionate thing. The Samaritan has no lines that limit his love.
But what about the bleeding man?
How would he react?
The man who was robbed and left half-dead most likely had lines in his own mind, too. The Samaritan likely would have been on the wrong side of the robbery victim’s assumptions about who is worthy.
How would the robbed man react when he regained consciousness and learned that he’d been saved by someone whom he looks down upon and maybe even despises?
Would it change the robbed man’s view of Samaritans?
Did it change my view of those who stopped to help me?
That roadside moment reminded me how it’s so easy to get drawn into the loud voices saying we shouldn’t help those who are on a different side of our lines, our theologies, our borders.
The parable tries to erase those lines and make us recognize each other from the perspective of our undivided humanity. It challenges us to let our compassion supersede and trump anything and anyone who tries to divide us into groups of those who are worthy and those who are not.
When we see someone who needs our help, we stop. When someone stops to help us, we feel thankful, regardless of what’s on their bumper.
And we say a prayer of gratitude for them as they drive away – not only for their help, but for the lesson learned again.