Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Stranger

I heard a knock on the door while I was in my warm office studying and preparing for my next lesson to teach.  He was a tall skinny man with an unkempt red hair and beard and a huge backpack.  He explained his situation.  He was trying to get to California and had been riding the rails.  I didn't know anyone did that sort of thing any more.  He said the train stopped downtown, and he got off.  He was asleep and did not get off where he had intended.  He had come from Boston where he had been staying with family.  They took all his money and were into drugs, so he got out of there.  He said he used to travel by rail, but gave it up over ten years ago.  But he had no way to get back.  I wasn't sure what he wanted.  I offered him money, but he didn't want any money.  He wanted some way to continue his journey.  It would be hard to do in a little town like this.  He needed to be either at a truck stop, or some place like Lincoln or Omaha.  I told him that I didn't know what else to tell him.

As he walked away, I felt convicted.  I was concerned for my safety and would have preferred he took my money and went on his way.  I would have felt I did something to help.  However, he didn't want money.  As I watched him go up the hill and start to cross the bridge, I began to remember some of the sermons I have preached.  Jesus told the story about the Samaritan who helped someone by the side of the road.  He took a risk to do so.  Why did Jesus tell that story?  Oh yes.  After Jesus taught that we need to love God and love our neighbor, a person asked, "Who is my neighbor?"  I was watching my neighbor walk up the hill and over the bridge.  Suddenly, I felt a wave of shame come over me.

I hopped in my car and went after him.  I pulled into Casey's and waited for him to get there.  When he got there, I stopped him and offered to give him a ride to the truck stop, or if he could wait a couple hours, to Omaha.  We visited for a bit about the possible merits of either destination, and he decided on the truck stop on I-29.  As he put his back pack in the back seat and climbed into the car, the thought came across my mind again.  I don't know this guy.  He could pull a knife or a gun on me.  This is not safe.  Then I remembered the story again that Jesus told about the Samaritan who stopped to help someone in need.

He tried to tell me the story of his life on our trip over to the truck stop and how he had gotten stuck in the situation he is in.  If it wasn't the middle of the winter, he said it wouldn't be as bad.  But it was so cold out.  When we pulled up in front of truck stop, he thanked me.  I told him that the reason I decided to help him in this way was because Jesus tells me that he is my neighbor, and therefore I needed to help him.  I wasn't going to at first because of concern for safety.  But Jesus didn't stop from serving people out of concern for safety.  Do I think I am greater than him that I don't have to?  Jesus reminded me that servant is not greater than his master.   Before he got out of the car, I asked him if we could pray together.  I asked God to help Robert to be able to finish his trip, to help bring him and other Christians together to help him along the way, to keep him safe, and to bless him.  It was at that point that I noticed the tear running down his cheek.

On the drive back to my office, the odor of that stranger lingered in my car.  It caused me to reflect on the whole experience, especially my reluctance and the source of it.  A flood of Bible passages started running through my head as well.  There is the one about entertaining angels unawares.  There is the one about saying "be warmed and be filled" and not doing anything about it.  Then of course there is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which answers the question of "Who is my neighbor?" when we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The only regret I now have is not taking the time to share the Gospel with him.  Even though I told him that Jesus is the reason I am helping him, I didn't take the time to share the Gospel with him, which is a much greater need than finishing his trip to California.  The Gospel would help him to make the journey to Heaven.

Lord, please help me not to become so cautious that I pass by those who need help.  Help me not to put your light under a basket due to fear or inconvenience.  Help me to remember that so much of the ministry Jesus performed was in those times he was on his way somewhere but was "interrupted" by someone in need.  Help me never to fail to take the opportunity to share the Gospel, which is the greatest need.  Thank you for your patience and mercy.

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