As part of our preparation for our upcoming Peacemaking Trip, we've been wrestling with the story of the Good Samaritan. In it, a lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus tells a story about a man who gets robbed, stripped, and beaten on the way to Jericho. A priest and a Levite both pass him by. But then a Samaritan - an unlikely hero - stops and helps him, tending to both his immediate and long-term needs. It's this Samaritan – the one who shows mercy to the victim – who's identified as the man's neighbor.
Since digging into this story with my missions team, it's continued to percolate in my brain. As is often the case when a story works it's way into my imagination, recently, I've seen it play out in my own life in a very small, but real way.
In the past two weeks, I've flown twice, just baby Hope & I. While I was excited about both my trips, I dreaded the travel aspect of it. It's not easy traveling with an infant, especially one who's becoming more mobile by the day.
In so many ways, these trips made me feel like the victim on the road to Jericho, clearly in need of someone to see and help me.
So often, people saw me struggling to juggle a baby and all the travel gear... I know because they'd express their annoyance at how slow I was going. Yet, rather than lend a helping hand, they passed by... Or stood behind me muttering under their breath about people who “insist on taking their babies everywhere with them.”
In my discussion of the Good Samaritan with my missions team, we wrestled with what might compel a priest & a Levite – the very people you'd expect to help – to keep going, to pass by a person in need.
Perhaps they were too busy.
Perhaps they feared that if they became unclean in their effort to help one person, they'd sacrifice their ability to help MORE people.
Perhaps helping made them uncomfortable.
Perhaps they passed by out of fear.
Perhaps the frequency of victims on this road desensitized them, making them oblivious to the victim's needs.
In the same way, I wondered what compelled people to pass me by, despite my obvious need for help. In sharing this with a friend, he explained he never helps struggling moms because he doesn't want to be perceived as creepy.
And I get that.
Really, I do.
But that doesn't alleviate my need, which thankfully, not everyone I encountered was oblivious to. In fact, during my two trips, I met a great deal of Good Samaritans, people who stopped what they were doing to help.
- On the way to North Carolina for the Women in Youth Ministry Campference, a kind TSA agent noticed I was alone. While I held my baby, she broke down my stroller and sent everything through the x-ray machine.
- When a male TSA officer nearly confiscated my A&D diaper ointment, a different female TSA agent quickly intervened, explaining what A&D was and how necessary it was.
- On the way to Minneapolis to do some work for Arbor Research Group, I settled into my seat and immediately started nursing. When my seatmate noticed what I was doing, she said, “I'll try really hard to not be in your way. Let me know if I can do anything that will make this easier for you.”
- A stewardess stood in the back of the plane and played Peek-A-Boo with Hope for nearly half of our flight. Hope responded with squeals of delight that seemed to woo rather than annoy those around us.
- When we finally landed, I was visibly exhausted. Since we don't go anywhere quick, I let everyone else get off the plane before we even stood up. Once I did, I realized I couldn't hold Hope and gather our stuff. Seeing my dilemma, the pilot walked to the back of the plane and offered to hold Hope for me. Relieved, I took him up on his offer. After I got our stuff together, the pilot carried Hope off the plane, entertained her while I got our stroller set up, and then walked us up the ramp, all the while complimenting me on her amiable disposition.
- On my trip home from Minneapolis, a young married woman saw me struggling to get all my stuff repacked after going through security and offered to hold Hope. She stood and sang to Hope as I got our gear packed. What's more, she even thanked me for fulfilling her baby fix.
- On the plane ride home from Minneapolis, two strangers – a young male social worker and a man who introduced himself as a “gay guy who loves kids” - entertained my super social kid for the entire flight. They played with Mr. Pig, read Hope the zoo book, built stuff with her using her favorite hammer, and picked up stuff whenever she dropped it. They even created games out of the napkins and plastic cups given to us by the stewardess.
On both of my trips, help came from unlikely people in unlikely places. While some people passed by, oblivious to my need or unwilling to help, others saw my need, stepped off the road, got a little dirty, and met it.
So often, I limit my definition of neighbors to those who I know... And usually only to those I know well.
But on my two recent trips, I was reminded that indeed, neighbors are those who show mercy to us, regardless of how long or how well we know them. In the last two weeks, my neighbors have included TSA agents, a pilot, a gay man, a male social worker, and a host of other strangers who – for a few minutes – helped me care for my kid.
The story of the Good Samaritan ends with Jesus telling the lawyer to “Go and do likewise”, to go and show mercy to his neighbors.
And after my experience in the last two weeks, I pray that today, tomorrow, and in the weeks and months to come, I'll have the courage to go and show mercy to my neighbors... In the same way that a TSA agent, pilot, gay man, and male social worker showed mercy to me.
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