Feeling Bad About Not Being Able To Help

On Sundays I come to church early in the morning to pray. While driving, I rehearse that day’s sermon. I am often so focused on my rehearsal that I forget that I am driving.

On one such Sunday morning a while back, I was rehearsing on the way to church. A traffic light turned red and I stopped without thinking, continuing to rehearse. Then I heard a tap on the window. I had been so absorbed in my rehearsal that it startled me. I saw a Hispanic man motioning for me to roll down the window. I cracked it open and asked what he wanted. It was difficult for me to fully understand his broken English, but based on words I made out like “Long Point”, “pay”, and “gasoline”, I figured that he wanted me to give him a ride to somewhere on Long Point and that he was willing to pay for gas. Long Point was not far from where I stopped and it would not have been too much trouble for me to give him a ride. But the street was dark and deserted; no one was around. I also recalled a recent news report of someone who had been murdered by a hitchhiker. I shook my head as a sign of refusal and drove off.

When I reached church and started praying, my heart was heavy. I kept thinking about Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story, the people who neglected to help the victim of a robbery were religious professionals like me: a priest and a Levite. But I couldn’t promise God that I wouldn’t do it again; I wasn’t confident that I would act any differently if placed in a similar situation.

When I was in elementary school, I read a translation of the French novel Les Miserables. In it, a man who is recently freed from prison cannot find a place to spend the night. Eventually, a kind priest invites him to dinner and offers him a room. Despite the priest’s kindness, the man steals a silver candlestick and runs away in the middle of night. He is caught by the police and brought to the priest, but the priest shows mercy by claiming that the candlestick was a gift from him to the man and has him released. The ex-convict becomes a changed man because of the priest’s love and begins a new life.

After reading the book I was so moved that I made a commitment to become a caring and loving person like the priest. But now I’m older and we live in evil times. There are so many evil people committing atrocities. It is hard, if not impossible, to live nobly like the priest. I still need to learn Jesus commands, how to be as wise as a serpent but innocent as a dove (Matt. 10:16).

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