The old man shuffled along, wobbling his aging limbs down the center of the road.
Karin Fuller immediately pulled her car alongside him. Before she could ask if he needed help, the man rounded her Toyota, opened the door, and climbed his fragile body inside.
Karin glanced at her rearview mirror and saw the driver behind her chuckling. That’s when she realized this wasn’t the old man’s first trip down the center of the road.
Sure enough, he said his car had stopped months ago and that he needed to see his wife. She was in a rehab place about 50 miles away.
“Do you get to see her very often?” Karin asked, her heart breaking.
“Every day,” he said. “So far!”
Karin listened and quickly learned that someone always stopped to pick him up, and someone else would bring him home.
The rehab place wasn’t near where she was going, but Karin took 81-year-old Burton Cummings to the front door.
She told me this story one evening while writing her column, not that we know each other because we’re columnists.
Karin and I met as young, unpublished hopefuls at a writers’ conference, staying in the cheapo dorm with eight to a room. Thereafter, we landed in the same writing groups and became friends.
Karin’s story with Mr. Cummings is remarkable, but not nearly as dramatic as this next one.
A man I’ll call Sam was traveling along a deserted road when he eyed a beaten and bloody man in the road, apparently left for dead. There was no cell service nor nearby hospital. Clearly it was dangerous to stop—the sensible plan was to go on and send the law back to help the man.
But Sam didn’t do that.
He created a make-shift first aid kit, got down on his knees, and bandaged the man’s wounds on that desolate road. Sam then took the man to the closest motel-like place and cared for him. The next morning, Sam handed the owner money and said, “Look after him. I’ll repay you for whatever else you spend once I return.”
Maybe you recognize this story—it’s Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37.
But there’s more to it. And the details are important.
The beaten man was found first by a priest and then by a Levite on a road in Judea. Why did Jesus choose those two men and that area?
Since the Exodus from Egypt, some 1,500 years earlier, Levites were special. They were called by God to serve Him. Priests were the most important of the Levites, trusted with the highest sacred duties. Exodus 32:29, Numbers 3:11-12
Jesus brings these ministers into His story as the most likely to stop and help, but both passed the wounded man and went on.
Our Lord then chooses a third traveler, the Samaritan, who cares for the man.
“Samaritan” didn’t mean goodness at that time. More like “S.O.B.”
Samaritans were despised half-breeds—Jews who’d intermarried with foreigners generations earlier against God’s decree. They lived apart from Jews; separate from Judea, which was distinctly Jewish.
Why then should this traveling Samaritan stop and help a man in a Jewish region? The Samaritan would have suffered a lifetime of prejudice and insult at the hands of these Jewish people.
That’s the point—because he was the least likely to do so. It’s a parable about mercy. Undeserved compassion.
Karin never saw Mr. Cummings again.
“He died a couple of days later,” she said.
But Karin's kindness to that elderly man became a gift to her. He will always remind Karin to trust God. “Leap and a net will appear,” John Burroughs famously said. In Mr. Cummings’ case, shuffle along a double-yellow line and someone will pick you up.
There are those like Mother Teresa who dedicate their lives to mercy. But God brings opportunities for kindness to you and me every day. They have a way of walking down the middle of the road when you least expect it.
Like Karin’s 81-year-old man, they may change your life forever.
Copyright © 2019, 2020 R.A. Mathews. The Rev. Mathews is a faith columnist, attorney, and the author of “Reaching to God.” Write to her at Letters@RAMathews.com