Who Is My Neighbor?
The other day I listened – really listened to the story of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps the events of 2001 helped me to understand it. In the Bible it actually starts by a lawyer asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus being a wise teacher answers his question with a story:
Once there was a man on his way to Jericho. He was accosted by thieves, beaten, stripped of his clothes, and left for dead alongside the road. After awhile, a priest happened to walk past. He heard the moans from the man, but he thought, “Why should I help? After all I’m on my way to preach. This man will ruin my new robes.” He left the man without so much as a backwards glance. Then, a Levite was traveling the road when he too heard the man’s cries. He thought, “Why should I help? After all I’ll be late for my meeting if I stop now.” He hurriedly walked by pretending not to hear his cries. The man had all but given up hope when a Samaritan walked by. Now, it was common knowledge the Samaritans were lowlifes, scum of the earth. They were at best cheats and scoundrels and at worst murderers and thieves. Yet, it was the Samaritan who came over to assist the man. He took some oils from his bag and washed the sores as best he could. Then, he tore his own clothing into strips and wrapped the bleeding wounds. After he finished, he ever so gently raised the man into his arms and placed him on his beast. He walked alongside until they reached the next town. When they came to an inn the Samaritan made the man as comfortable as possible. Then, he went to the innkeeper and gave him two pieces of silver. “Take care of his every need,” he said. “I must go now. If he should need anything else, I’ll pay for it when I return.”
Jesus looked at the lawyer and asked, “Which of these three men loved his neighbor?”
I thought of this story after the events of 9-11. So many stories came out of that tragedy, but one really made an impression on me. It was one I heard over my Storytell listserve. There was a Jewish man running down the streets of New York. He was trying to outrun the black cloud of debris that would soon overtake him. Then, he tripped and fell. Soon, the street turned black. Completely disoriented he cried for help, but no one came to his aid. He thought he had moments to live when a hand reached out to lift him up. He heard a voice say, “Let’s get out of here!” It wasn’t until they were in the safety of a nearby store that the Jewish man discovered that the man who helped was a Moslem.
I think the Moslem recognized and loved his neighbor.
I also thought of the Samaritan story when I attended the funeral services of my new son-in-law’s father, Lester Sullivan. I didn’t get to know him, but the minister’s eulogy told me volumes about the kind of man he was. It was during World War II that Lester found himself and a soldier of the Jewish faith stranded in a foxhole. They were given the orders that one could escape. The other had to hold their position. Lester turned to the other soldier and said, “You go. If you stay, the Germans will surely kill you or worse place you in a concentration camp.” The Jewish soldier ran to safety while Lester spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp. Yes, Lester was awarded several medals for his bravery, but no one in the family knew this story until the minister relayed to them his last conversation with Lester.
I think Lester recognized and loved his neighbor.
That night as I told these two stories, my story spontaneously came to mind:
Late one night I was coming home on Metrolink. The car had several people on board, but one man in particular caught my attention. He obviously lived on the streets. His clothes were worn and he had soiled his pants. The car immediately filled with the stench of someone who hadn’t bathed in weeks and his breath reeked of alcohol. I tried to avoid eye contact, but every so often I had to look over at him as he clung to the side of a seat. When he saw me, he came over and asked me something. I couldn’t understand a thing he was trying to say…he speech was so slurred. I asked him again what he wanted, and again I couldn’t understand him. Finally, it dawned on me…he wanted a handout. Even though I knew full well that he’d drink the money away, I gave him a dollar. He thanked me profusely and stumbled away. But, I don’t know why I gave him that money. Was it compassion or was it fear; was it out of love for my fellow man or was it annoyance? I truly don’t know.So that’s why I need to tell the story of the Samaritan. I need to tell the story of the Moslem and of Lester Sullivan. For I am like that lawyer, I have a lot to learn through story about just who is my neighbor.