Thursday, November 5, 2009

$3.50 Worth of Neighborliness

I was in Atlanta several weeks ago and happened to be driving back in the late evening to my in-law's home after visiting another relative on the opposite side of town. I was a driving a borrowed late-model luxury car that I don't mind telling you was a sweet experience. You see, I like cars and I like cars that go fast, not that I was breaking any speed limits! Gazing down at the dashboard I suddenly noticed we were low on fuel so I pulled off the interstate at the nearest service station to fuel up. It didn't take long for me to realize that the area I had chosen to refuel was not the nicest part of town. My wife and son were with me, so I quickly jumped out of the driver's side, slid my card into the pump and hurriedly pumped my gas.

Suddenly I heard a slight shuffle, turned my head and was startled to see a young man standing in front of my car with his hands up as if protesting his own request. "Excuse me sir," he hesitated, "I don't mean no harm, honestly!" He seemed nervous and he spoke softly but quickly. "You see sir, I was hopin to fetch the bus home. The station attendant told me dat the bus be goin' by in a lil bit, jest across da street," as he pointed in that direction. I anticipated what was next and sure enough he managed to blurt out, "If you could jist gimme some money, I'll be on my way."

Many of us have faced similar circumstances. What do you do in these kinds of situations? I'll tell you what I did. I reasoned, "This guy isn't going to catch any bus. He'll only take my money and go and waste it on booze or buy a lottery ticket." So I asked him (not that his answer would matter), "So how much is a bus ticket?" With a look of hopefulness and expectancy he replied, "Three dolla and fifty cent, sir." I protested silently, "No bus ticket across town could possibly cost that much!" And with that I waved him off, turned my back and proceeded to finish pumping my gas. He hung his head shamefully and sauntered off to wait out his time for another unsuspecting motorist.

I finished pumping my gas, climbed back into my car to be met by my wife holding out a five-dollar bill. "I heard the conversation; we were wondering if this guy was legit. Let's give him a hand." I said, "I don't know. I'm not sure what this guy will do with it. Is he just waiting around to go in the store and buy himself some booze?" My son Drew reminded me of the story he had read sometime earlier of C.S. Lewis, when he was berated by his Christian friends for giving all his money to poor street people. "Aren't you afraid that they will only use your money to buy booze and intoxicants." Lewis replied, "So would I." I drove over to the young man, rolled down the window and held out the $5.00 bill for him. "Here, spend this on a bus ticket and get yourself home!" He grabbed the bill, uttered "God bless you!" and bounded across the busy street to the nearby bus-stop.

I've been thinking about this experience these past few weeks, especially as it relates to Jesus' command to "love our neighbor as ourselves." What does it mean at the core of my being to be a neighbor? It's natural for me to help people who are like me or who I like. But what about neighboring those who are unlike me? Certain kinds of people are easy to neighbor, especially those whose need is produced through no fault of their own. But what about those people who act irresponsibly or who make unwise choices? To those I want to say, "you deserve it!" Am I obligated by Jesus command to neighbor these kinds of people? Unfortunately, I am often guilty of "limiting" my "neighboring."

Jesus however, doesn't qualify or condition his command. It's straightforward--no conditions, no qualifications. Love those who are different. Love those who are undeserving. Love those who may take advantage of your generosity and blow it on booze. What I'm learning is that Jesus' command to love our neighbors as ourselves may say more about the condition of my own heart than the heart of those I am seeking to love.

Love on,

S t r e t c h e d