Monday, August 30, 2010

The Good Samaritan

So, what do you do when you're walking out of the church at 7:45 on a Sunday evening right after you've led a lesson about The Good Samaritan and encounter a strange looking fellow and a pregnant woman walking toward you from a white pickup truck parked next to your orange vibe?

"Hey man. I told my sister here that you was good folks down here. She's had to get away from her husband. She's eight months pregnant. And we was lookin' to get to Dixon tonight. I don't got nothin' to give her, but if you could give us some cash to buy some gas to get to Dixon, that would be real helpful."

To be clear, this woman was definitely late in her pregnancy as far as I could tell.

"Well," I say, "I've got a few bucks in my wallet, but that's it. The morning offering has already been taken to the bank, and we don't keep extra cash lying around." (All of these statements are true, by the way)

"Is there a gas station around here?"

At this point, my internal monologue says, "Hey, remember how you just did a lesson about The Good Samaritan and challenged the youth to think about the people on the margins?"

"Sure," I say. "I'm headed north of here and there's an Exxon a few miles up the road. I'll pay to fill up your truck."

"Well, that's be just great."

As I walk closer to the truck, I notice that it's full of people. I mean, there are six potential seats in there, and all of them are full once the man and his "sister" get inside.

To keep things relatively short, I paid for them to fill up their truck, and as he was pumping his gas, the guy asked if I could use the ATM and help his sister out with some cash. I told him I wasn't going to do that, but I was glad to buy the gas.

Now, I get hit up with the "We just need enough money to get to Somewhereville" story a lot, especially on evenings when I'm the last one left at church. Most of the time, when I say I don't have cash, the people drive off. Occasionally they take me up on the offer of gas, but when my credit card bill comes in, they only pumped $4 in gas.

All of this is to say that I now have a new answer to the question I asked the youth: Why did the priest/pastor walk by the man on the road?

Because sometimes you just get tired of being hustled and lied to. Because sometimes you wonder if the person is really hurt, or at least if the hurt they're claiming to have is true. Because sometimes you wish they would just tell you that they need drugs, alcohol, or whatever. Because what you really want to do is heed MLK's call to fix the road so that people don't get beat up.

Anyway, it's 7:45 on a Sunday evening and you're approached in the church parking lot. What do you do?


Jersey said...

I have such a heart for people in such a situation because I've had family members (and at times I myself with them) who have been there. Offsetting this ache to help them is an even greater fear that I'm being taken advantage or worse, putting myself or family in a dangerous situation by helping. Fear is an amazing suppressor of generosity for me.

I believe God asks us to first tithe and that other charity comes from surplus. "Surplus" can be relative to your chosen lifestyle, but setting that argument aside, my hope for myself and my family is that we will become better and better stewards of our resources and eventually set aside funds each month for exactly such circumstances. Then, when the man approaches us after church or on an exit ramp -- wherever and whenever -- we can be generous with what God has given us and trust Him that it will ultimately be put to good use. Even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.