ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

THE FREEWAY SAMARITAN

There were a thousand reasons not to stop.

I was running late for . . . um . . . well, whatever it was that I was running late for that day.  The freeway was busy and I didn’t want to cause an accident.  Surely the Highway Patrol would be along soon, and it’s their job to help stranded motorists, isn’t it?  And I had on my navy blue suit, with a light blue shirt and a silk tie.  Not exactly car-fixing clothes, you know?

Let’s see – that makes 1,004 reasons not to stop.

And here’s 1,005: I am the world’s worst auto mechanic.  Public enemy No. 1 on the AAA’s Ten Most Wanted list.  Mr. WhatsaWrench.  The first time I tried to change my car’s oil myself I did fine – until I forgot to put the new oil in.  The boys down at the garage had a big laugh over that one.  The next time, I remembered to put in the new oil – only I put it in where the power steering fluid goes.  That triggered a letter from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Chryslers.  They suggested I get a horse.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  God has given me other talents to use for the benefit of mankind.  But I’m not sure how much it would have helped that lady who was stranded by the side of the freeway if I would have pulled over and burped on cue.

So I didn’t pull over.  I drove by, just like dozens of other drivers on the freeway that day.  And I felt guilty about it.  So I turned off at the next exit and made my way back to see if I could at least give her a lift or something.  But by the time I got back to her a Hispanic gentleman had pulled in behind her and was tinkering with her car’s engine like he knew what he was doing.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked.

“No, thank you,” the lady replied.  “This nice man says he can fix it.”

At that moment, a voice from under the hood shouted: “OK, try it now!”

The woman reached for the key and turned it.  The engine started beautifully.

“It was your serpentine belt,” the man explained, wiping his hands on his pants.  “It slipped off.  It’s pretty worn.  You want to take that to a mechanic, get a new one put on.”

The woman tried to give the freeway Samaritan some money, but he declined and waved as she drove off.  It wasn’t until we started walking toward our cars that I noticed he had five more reasons not to stop than I did; his family was sitting in the station wagon, waiting patiently.

“Do you stop and help people like this often?” I asked.

He shrugged.  “Somebody has to,” he said.  “What’s she going to do if nobody helps?”

And for him that was reason enough.

In his final sermon, given the night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took as his text the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan.  In the story, a man is attacked by thieves and left by the roadside.  Several travelers happen upon him, but they pass by.  Eventually someone does stop to help, although it is the one person who might have had a reason not to.  He is a Samaritan and the victim is a Jew.  Those folks didn’t get along any better back then than they do now.

According to Dr. King, those who passed by the injured man were asking themselves the wrong question: “If I help this man, what will happen to me?”  The Good Samaritan stopped to help because he asked the right question: “If I don’t help this man, what will happen to him?”

Dr. King spent a lifetime asking the right question.  If we truly want to honor his memory during this time of year and always, then we need to ask ourselves that question, too.

No matter how many reasons we think we have not to.

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— © Joseph Walker

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