He walked up to me late Sunday evening at a Indiana truck stop. Just thirty minutes earlier I had left a cabin at Bethany Beach in Sawyer, Michigan that my family was renting for the week. I had been thinking about my work week ahead when I decided to stop for coffee and top off my gas tank because gas was cheaper in Indiana than anything I might find in Illinois. I was at the pump when a young man approached me and asked, “Hey buddy, can you give me a ride?” He was a man I’d guess was in his mid-twenties. He was not dressed shabbily and maintained an appropriate distance. The young stranger, went on to say, ” I hope you’re going to Chicago.”
Before I thought much about it, I responded, “yes, I’m driving west to the Chicago area.” He asked me again if he could join me for the drive. I simply said yes and motioned for him to get in. I said, “my name is David; what’s yours?” He answered, ” everyone calls me Tim.” Maybe I invited him to go with me because he appeared to be a regular guy just needing a ride. Maybe I wanted to be helpful or more likely I may have wanted to avoid guilt feelings I’d likely experience if I said no and turned him away. And it is harder to say no than yes in most situations. What I know for sure is I had little time to consider what to do. I wonder if my answer would have been different if I’d had more time to think it over? What would you have done if Tim approached you some evening somewhere on the road?
I moved my stuff from the front seat to make room for Tim. Immediately I began to question my decision to give him a ride when he entered my car largely unencumbered with anything resembling a suitcase. As I drove away from the lighted area of the truck stop and turned west on interstate 80/94, I asked Tim why he was traveling so lightly. He replied that he did not have any “extra clothes” and the plastic bag he lifted from his lap for me to see contained all he needed for his anticipated time in Chicago. This was only the first of what turned out to be a whole litany of questions from me followed by brief, and to my way of thinking, vague even odd answers from Tim.
“Why are you going to Chicago?”
Tim responded, “A friend said I could probably get a job as a truck driver tomorrow morning.”
“Where is this trucking company?”
“On South Wabash.”
“What time is your interview?”
“I don’t have a formal interview but my friend thought I should show up early, about 7AM.”
“Where will you stay tonight?”
“I don’t know. It’ll have to be cheap. I only have a few dollars.”
“Where are you from?”
“A small town in south west Michigan.”
“Aren’t there any jobs there?”
“Do you still live with your parents?”
“Yes, because I have to until I get a real job. My parents and I don’t get along very well. “
I asked other questions and Tim made an attempt to provide answers. Unfortunately my probing questions were annoying Tim while his responses were growing shorter. After a short time we both became quiet for what must have been half an hour. It seemed much longer. During the solitude my mind raced from concern about my safety to feelings of guilt for not feeling more concerned about Tim’s welfare.
I had hitched rides sometimes in my student days and I never had any problems. But that was a long time ago and isn’t the world more dangerous today? I was having difficulty rationalizing the obvious differences between my long held beliefs about being concerned about others with my at this very moment largely self centered feelings. Where does my theology and my real life experiences meet? I remembered reading a church sign announcing Sunday’s sermon, “Do You walk the talk?”
Doesn’t the Bible tell us we are supposed to help people in need and take people we meet at face value? I wondered why I was so suspect of this young man’s motives. I know I can’t contribute much to solving national and world problems of injustice, poverty and war but can’t I at least assist, when needs are evident with the few individuals who flow in and out of my personal life? In my mind my answer is yes but when I’m actually presented with opportunities to help others, even non- threatening opportunities, I’m usually not very quick to respond to obvious needs nearby in my daily life. To do so may be inconvenient or take too much time or otherwise somehow require too much of me. I was troubled the night I met Tim. I had to acknowledge to myself that my theological and biblical beliefs and my real life behavior were not exactly in sync.
Tim and I continued on our nearly hour and a half journey until I dropped him off at an exit ramp in down town Chicago. I gave him some money and suggested he look for a room at the WMCA for men on south Wabash Avenue which I knew was nearby. He thanked me, closed the car door and walked away into the night. After he left I first felt relief but soon I felt I was wrong for not doing more. I know some Chicago streets can be unsafe at night. I should have at least driven Tim to the WMCA I was aware of and made sure he had a room and enough money for the night and bus or train fare to return to Michigan the next day. I didn’t do that.
Luke 10:29-37 records the events of another traveler, this one perhaps a Jew, on his way to Jericho when he was beaten and robbed and left to possibly die on the roadside. A priest passes by the injured man without helping and later so does a Levite pass by before finally a Samaritan travelling on the road finds the wounded man and stops and helps him by finding safety and shelter and care for his wounds and payment for any of his expenses. This event recorded in Luke is all the more remarkable since Samaritans were not thought of highly or respected by Jews in biblical times.
I wonder what happened to Tim. I hope he is all right and even got the job he was seeking. Whether he’s in Illinois or back in Michigan I hope and pray he’s okay. I remember well the night I met him and I hope I’ll handle a similar situation better next time, if God is willing to give me another chance. I’m sure He will give me more chances. I may not experience the dramatic opportunity for service we read about in Luke 10 but surely I can be kinder, more attentive, more generous and more willing to provide at least a smile to everyone I meet along the way. Good Morning America TV anchor Robin Roberts who underwent extremely difficult bone marrow transplant surgery a few years ago believes it is a tragedy to have a life changing experience and miss the meaning. I want to learn the meaning from how I responded with Tim. It’s about taking to heart what I read on the church sign and really learning to “walk the talk”. I believe now as I journey along life’s road I must be respectful and caring to everyone I meet, especially those dealing with pain and heartbreak. I’ve not always done this. My conscious goal now with prayer and with God’s help each and every day is to think and believe and behave more like the “Good Samaritan.”