As I pulled up to a traffic light this past Friday, I saw a woman off to the side of the road. She was standing outside in the spritzing rain and smoke spewed out of the hood of her car. She was dressed shabbily and the car looked like it had seen better days.
She looked up at the other cars lined up at the light and you could tell she was in trouble. She was smoking a cigarette and worry-lines filled her face. A thought crossed my mind that I should pull over and offer to help, to at least offer to drop her off at the convenience story a mile or so up the road.
I swatted the thought out of my mind as quickly as I could, reminding myself that I was already a half-an-hour late because of an unexpected accident that had slowed me down that morning. I reminded myself too of the early morning meeting that I needed to prepare for when I got to the office.
I stomped my fist on the passenger seat defiantly to quiet the guilty thought raging in my mind. I had to get to work and didn’t have the time to get involved in someone else’s drama. Plus, it was a busy road, someone else would eventually stop and pick her up.
When the light turned green, I pushed down hard on the gas and pulled away, being sure to look the other way so that I wouldn’t have to look at that woman again. I especially didn’t want to look her in the eyes.
Called to be a Good Samaritan
I forgot about the woman and didn’t think about her again until this past Sunday, when the priest in my church read the parable in Luke of the Good Samaritan stopping to help the injured traveler. (Luke 10:25-37)
Of course, the irony of the story was not lost on me.
Robbers surprise the traveler, stripping and beating him. They leave him close to dead along the side of the road. First a priest and then a Levite, one of the man’s own people, stop and pass him by, jumping to the other side of the road to avoid him. Finally, a Samaritan comes along and takes care of him like he would one of his own family members.
“He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.”
The story is one of my favorites from the Bible. I’ve long loved the story, but in all truth and honesty, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Good Samaritan. It’s been rumbling below the surface for me for the past two years. I keep thinking about it when I see stories like the ones I saw over the weekend on Vice President Mike Pence visiting the crowded Border Patrol facility in Texas.
Pence made several stops and toured a swelteringly hot storage area with hundreds of men and overcrowding so extreme there was no room for cots, the migrants left to sleep on concrete beneath mylar blankets. Families fleeing violence, poverty and drought in Central America have been coming to the US in record numbers in recent months. Detention facilities have filled up quickly, forcing many migrants to languish in unsuitable facilities much longer required by law. Republicans of course blame the problem on the Democrats, Democrats in turn blame it on Republicans and the Trump White House.
In the weeks since news stories have come out about the facilities, I’ve see many posts about how troubling the facilities are, but then I’ve seen just as many, including some by people I know, going into painstaking detail on how the immigrants have entered the country illegally and are looking for free services.
My first thought is that many of these people are fleeing unsafe conditions in their own country. I can’t help but think of my own forefathers coming from Europe. Yes, some came here legally, but many others came simply looking for a way out. I keep wondering where the common sense and compassion are? I question why we can’t pass true immigration reform that takes a look at the problem in totality and when we have to turn migrants away or hold them, why we can’t do so with compassion, without separating families, without putting them into cages.
Love your neighbor as yourself
I hear both sides of the issue, but I keep coming back to the Good Samaritan story. I find I can’t separate the two stories. In particular, I keep coming back to the line: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
I keep looking in my Bible for any references to legal or illegal status. There’s no reference to either in the translation that sits on my desk. I’ve looked a couple times now, but I’ve come up empty. I thought it might just be the version that I have so I googled the Good Samaritan story and again came up empty. The reading says simply, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
I speak from experience when I say that “loving others” can be pretty hard to do. Yes, I’m the one who passed that woman on the side of the road on the way to work.
However, thinking about the woman and the immigration crisis on Sunday, I did all that I could: I said a quiet prayer for the woman, the immigrants suffering through this crisis and our lawmakers, who ultimately have a say in solving this challenge, and promised myself that next time: I would be a better man and a better neighbor.