|picture courtesy of boutgreen.com|
I couldn't help but notice him. I drove up the highway, still a bit bleary-eyed after dropping my teenage son off at his early morning driver's education classes. My three youngest children sat in the backseat of the van, still clad in their pajamas and sporting bed hair.
He jumped up and down waving his arms wildly. My heart beat faster. What was going on? What emergency was causing this old man to dance around on the side of the highway? It had to be something terrible. Without really thinking about it, my van slowed and stopped right there on the pavement. I rolled down the window, expecting the white-haired gentleman to fill me in and let me know what I could do to help. Instead, he grabbed the door handle and hoisted himself into the front seat.
"How far are you going?" he asked with his toothless mouth and shut the door.
Where was the emergency? Didn't this guy know that if you want to hitch a ride you stand on the side of the road and casually hold out your thumb - not dance around like you've just glimpsed the coming end of the world? Frowning on the inside, I began to drive and casually moved my purse behind my seat, out of the hitchhiker's view.
"Where are you from?" I asked pleasantly.
"Oh, you know - everywhere," he replied, and listed a couple of different towns, hundreds of miles apart.
By now, a stench was permeating my van. I don't think I've ever smelled anything so awful in my life. It was apparent his stiff, tan coat served as shelter, napkin, blanket...and toilet. I wanted to gag. Instead, I drove with my hand casually (I hope) pressed under my nose. I wondered what my kids, all of whom were completely silent, were thinking at moment.
Just a few miles later I came to my turn-off and dropped the man off.
"Thank you!" he called, hopped out, and started up shoulder of the highway. I never saw him again.
"Mom!" my daughter gasped from the back seat, "Were you trying to kill us?!"
"He stinky!" my four year old exclaimed.
"That was not a good idea!" my son intoned seriously.
I didn't really know how to reply to them. The kids were absolutely right. It's never a good idea to pick up hitchhikers. Although, in my defense, I didn't know he was hoping for a ride. I really thought there was some kind of emergency off the highway with which he needed help and then he was in my van before I knew what was happening.
He could have hurt us in a number of ways, that's true. As the single parent to a house full of children, I have the sole responsibility of doing everything I can to preserve not only the kids' safety and well-being, but my own. I don't want them to lose the only parent they have left.
But where does securing one's safety end and caring for the downtrodden begin?
A few days earlier my kids had been to Sunday School and when they came home they eagerly recounted the parable to me they had learned that day of the man who cared for the Samaritan after he was accosted by thieves and left for dead. The account is found in Luke 10.
I remember hearing the story in my own Sunday School years. The visual aids presented with the lesson usually showed this poor man scratched up and laying in his underwear on the dusty road. I wonder if that is a more sanitized version that's presented to young children. I imagine he might actually have been naked. And I doubt thieves would have been able to remove his clothing without inflicting more than mere scratches. He was probably pretty pitiful looking by the time they rode away.
Maybe he stunk, too.
But a Jewish man came along and spied the poor creature. It would have been so easy for him to look away. After all, that's what the two men who had encountered the Samaritan victim before this man had done. They pretended like they didn't see. They walked on by. In their culture, a person didn't get much lower than being born Samaritan. Being beat up and robbed was probably the least of what he deserved, they may have thought.
But this man stopped. He picked up the broken bit of humanity on the road. The victim probably bled all over his fine robes. He got him some help and even fished money out of his own pocket to ensure his continued care.
There's a lesson here, which is why it's in our Bible. It's a lesson I'm still pondering. I don't know the answers. When are we heeding God's call and when are we enabling those who continually make bad choices? When are we to serve and when do we do nothing?
All I know is that Jesus said he came to minister to the "least of these" which means we should, too, and maybe sometimes that means disregarding our own potential safety, giving a few dollars, or offering a ride..
Even if we have to quietly gag into our hand while doing it.
Do to others as you would have them do unto you.