The back of my beautiful house looks down onto the river. Many people walk or bike the trail that meanders alongside it, and in the summer people kayak or canoe or float inner tubes in the water. One day, I was driving down my narrow gravel road and saw three young people walking. Two boys and a girl, they looked to be in their early twenties. They were wearing wet bathing suits and dragging a single inner tube behind them. They had no shoes, and as I steered around them, I noticed the girl’s feet were bleeding. I realized they must have come up from the river.
I looked down at the comfy slip-ons I was wearing on my way to the grocery store and stopped the car. As they caught up, I offered the girl my shoes. The gratitude in her face was overwhelming as she reached out and took them with a joyful smile. Her companions looked surprised, but they shrugged and kept walking.
I watched them ahead of me for a few seconds – the hot sun beating down, wet hair plastered to their faces and wet bathing suits rubbing against their skin as they struggled to drag the unwieldy inner tube. I intended to go home and get another pair of shoes, but after a brief reconsideration, I caught up to them in my car.
“Where are you guys going?” I asked. They explained how they had capsized and lost their other two inner tubes after hitting an unexpectedly strong current. They swam to shore right behind my house and had no idea where they were. I described a few local landmarks and possible landing zones, and we were able to figure out where their friends would be waiting to pick them up. It was only about a mile away, but I couldn’t bear to think of them walking half naked and sunburned, so with a nervous sigh and a pounding heart I offered to give them a ride.
Their initial hesitation lasted only for a second (I am sure they could hear their mothers saying, “Never get in a car with a stranger!”) but their sore feet and dry mouths overcame their fear. I gave them each a bottle of the water I typically stored in the car and drove them to the meeting spot. Sure enough, their friends were anxiously waiting. My passengers jumped out and as I turned to drive away the girl cried, “Wait, here are your shoes!” “That’s okay, you keep them,” I called. “You still need something for your feet!” As I drove off, she smiled and waved. “Thank you, Good Samaritan!”
I think about the Good Samaritan a lot (Luke 10:29-37). He was the only person who helped the bruised and beaten Jew crumpled on the side of the road. Wasn’t he afraid? Jews hated Samaritans and vice versa. What if it was a trap? What if he got hurt? How easy it would’ve been to look the other way and cross the road like the others did before him. How simple it would have been to recite the mantra, “Don’t get involved; it’s not your business.”
Looking back at that day on my own road, I am amazed at myself. My introverted self has a difficult time talking to people in settings other than the comfortably familiar or on a written page. Not only did I talk to strangers, I invited them into my car! In all fairness, they were a pretty harmless trio; unless they planned to knock me out with their inner tube, I was pretty safe. I could have just thrown the shoes out the window if I was really scared.
Then I think about the Gospel message. How can I welcome strangers if I am afraid? How can I be compassionate to those who need help if I am scared to talk to them? And how on earth can I find the time to help anyone else when I barely have time to get to the grocery store myself?
There are plenty of safe ways I can help strangers. I can serve at the Community Table, my local version of a food bank. I can volunteer for prison ministry or my neighborhood welcoming committee. I can offer to tutor immigrants learning to speak English. But these ‘big’ things take time and commitment I may not have in this season of my life.
Luckily, there are plenty of small things I can do every day, too. I can smile at a stranger in the line at the post office. I can help an elderly person load her groceries into her car. I can send books and Bibles to the local jail. I can introduce myself to the new neighbor down the road. I can pray for the migrant workers and refugees who end up in my town. I can cultivate attentiveness to strangers every day because sometimes my simple gesture is all they need to be reminded of God’s love.
There is no limit to the ways we can help others with imagination and trust in God’s guidance. How can you comfort a stranger today?
Come, You who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me (Matthew 25:34-36).