The view from the other side of the street

By Richard Gammill
Special to The PREVIEW

One of India’s national newspapers, The Hindu, carried a story about a bus striking a man riding a bicycle.

The bus stopped on top of the bicycle, trapping the cyclist. He bled profusely as he struggled to free himself.

A crowd of onlookers gathered around. Smartphones came out, capturing still pictures and videos. No one volunteered to rescue the man from under the bus. The crowd stood waiting to photograph whatever happened next.

Paramedics eventually arrived and extricated the man from his mangled bicycle. They loaded him into a van and took him to a hospital ,where he died of his injuries.

The article went on to discuss the implications of taking pictures of a dramatic event while being unmoved by the tragedy. A “Good Samaritan” law had recently been enacted, but it did not encourage anyone to step forward and help.

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he mentioned two men who crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid making contact with the traveler who had been beaten and robbed. These men — a priest and a Levite — might have been expected to lend a helping hand. But if they had defiled themselves by touching blood, they would have been rendered unclean and prevented from performing their religious duties.

On their side of the Jericho road, there was no mercy, no compassion. Instead there was only a desire to maintain ritual purity and rush past to avoid this unpleasant business. It is the side of the road traveled by many, whether they stop to take pictures or not.

The Samaritan’s side of the road took him to the injured victim. Because he stooped and lifted the wounded traveler, the Samaritan is called “good.” He dressed the man’s wounds and took him to where he was safe. He did not stop there, but made provision for the cost of the man’s full recovery.

We might not see ourselves as being on the “other” side of the street, with our cameras out to record the evidence of how dangerous the road has become. We might consider our self “good” when we call attention to bad situations needing to be fixed by “someone.” We are good when we send a generous contribution to the latest victims of an earthquake, hurricane or flood. Putting a few dollars in the church offering plate makes us feel good. Just let us stay on the safe side of the street.

A man we know in scripture as a “rich young ruler” came to Jesus asking what he had to do to be certain of getting into heaven. When Jesus responded by mentioning several of the Ten Commandments, the man was relieved, for a moment. “I’m a good person; I’ve always observed all those things from my youth.”

However, he was still on the wrong side of the street.

“If you want to be perfect, it means selling everything you have and give to the poor,” Jesus said.

His wealth kept him on the easy side of the street, and he went away sorrowful (Matthew 9:16-22).

We might criticize that poor victim who should have known better than to ride a bicycle where the traffic is so dangerous, but if we are a “good” neighbor, we will cross the street to bind up the wounds of the person needing our help.

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This story was posted on August 17, 2017.