I could have done more
Two weeks ago, I was in Texas for a family reunion. Driving back to Houston from the reunion in Austin, my cousins and I stopped into a gas station in the town of Giddings. We were on the buckle of the Bible belt when we pulled up in front of the station’s convenience store. As we parked, I noticed a person lying on the ground – half on the sidewalk, half on a stack of big bags of corn. I couldn’t tell if this dark-skinned person – dirty and unkempt, seemingly unconscious – was alive or dead, a woman or a man. I watched person after person walk by into the store, and I couldn’t help thinking of a story I had heard as a child in Sunday School. I’m paraphrasing:
A lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered the lawyer with a question, “What have you read in the Law?” And the lawyer answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus agreed: “Yes, you’ve answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” This time Jesus answered him with a story:
“A man was on his way from Austin to Houston when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, robbed him and left him half dead. After a time a minister going down the same road came upon the man and crossed to the other side as he walked on by. A short time later, a religious politician passed by the same place and when saw the man he too crossed to the other side of the road and kept going. Some time later another man, a Samaritan (a “nonbeliever” according to the “faithful” of Jesus’ day) traveling the same road also saw the man. But he took pity on him and stopped to bandage his wounds. Then he put the man into his own car and took him to an inn. He took care of him all through the night, and the next day he gave the innkeeper some money to continue looking after the man, promising to return and pay him more for any extra expenses he might incur.
Then Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who had been robbed?” To which the lawyer replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” And to that Jesus simply said, “Go now and do likewise.”
For me, the person lying on the sidewalk outside this store was the man lying by the road. I was worried. I stood at a distance, waiting for my family and watching to see what happened.
It wasn’t until a store clerk came outside and leaned over the person that I saw she was a young woman. She moved then, but she didn’t get up. And he went back inside.
Soon a rough-looking man with tattooed arms and legs came up beside her and sat down to talk to her. I approached and asked if she was okay, and he answered for her: “Yeah, we’re okay.” I found that a bit strange, so I stayed, at a distance but close enough that I could hear a bit of their conversation. She sat up then, and I heard her say that she was trying to get to Brenham (which was another 32 miles down the road). He asked if she was walking, and I believe she said yes. He sat a while longer, then took her arm, knelt over her and prayed. And then he left.
Then I walked up to her again and again asked if she was okay. She said, “Yes ma’am, I’m just tired.” She was so dirty – from her toenails to her hair – even her clothes were just black with dirt. I imagined she was homeless. I imagined she had been abused. I imagined she was trying to get back home from a very bad situation.
I asked her if I could do anything for her – if I could get her some water – and she said, “Yes ma’am.” So I gave her a bottle of cold water and a banana and simply said, “Have courage. I know I may seem a long way from you right now, but I’ve had some very bad times in my life too. Have courage.” I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I got back in my cousin’s car and left her there.
There were a dozen good reasons not to, but I wish I had done more. I couldn’t put her in my cousin’s car, but could have asked if I could call someone for her. I could have offered her money, but I didn’t want to offend. It’s been two weeks now, but still I can’t get her out of my mind. And I can’t forget Jesus’ answer to the lawyer who wanted to know how to achieve eternal life. “Go and do likewise.” Pretty simple really.
Tell me. What would you have done?