We've all heard the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. The person who was least expected to help a neighbor in need, went above and beyond in restoring an individual to health and wellness. It's a gripping parable told by Jesus about living and giving mercy and compassion.
I'll never forget one night I went to WalMart in Wyoming....I was walking from my car to the store entrance when I heard a "Ma'am?" from behind me. I kept walking because of course, I was too young to be a ma'am. I heard it again, "Ma'am?" so I turned around. Some poor soul had mistaken me for a ma'am instead of a "pretty young lady". "Me?" I asked.
"Yes. We've run out of gas. We need to get to Powell. Is there any way you could spare some cash?" He was tall, burly, and unkempt. He had bushy, curly hair and a thick wiry beard, both cinnamon colored. His denim shirt was half untucked and he stood offset to one side, like it was painful for him to stand fully erect. His eyebrows were furrowed and I could tell from the vehicle he pointed to, that he had lived a hard life, and made some hard choices along the way. I eyed him from where I stood to see if I could pick up on any glimmer of genuineness.
I had a $10 bill and a $5 bill in my purse. I stared. So many thoughts ran through my mind before I asked, "How long are you planning on staying out here?" I was stalling. I was trying to decide what course of action to take. He shrugged and replied, "Until I can fill my vehicle."
I turned to go inside, but didn't take a step. I let out a heavy sigh. I was so completely torn. Is he being serious? Is he trying to take advantage of me? I reached in to my purse and grabbed the $5 bill. I turned and reached my hand out, but stood planted where I was.
"If I give you this money," I started, "Will you use it to buy drugs?"
"Will you use it to buy booze?"
A female poked her head through the window of the rusty suburban and she explained, "No Ma'am, we don't do those things. He has a new job he starts in Powell tomorrow - we just need the gas to get there."
Everything inside of me said not to. Who runs out of gas parked in a parking lot? The busiest parking lot in town no less? I handed him the money and said, "Remember. You said you'd buy gas."
I turned and walked inside WalMart while a few "Thank you"s were uttered behind me. There was a manager there by the door and I said, "I'm not sure how you handle this, but there's a gentleman peddling for cash in your parking lot." He smiled and said, "Thank you, I'll take care of it." I have no idea what he meant by that, nor do I really understand why I told him....I was so caught off guard by the whole event. I went and retrieved the two items I needed and returned to my car. I was in WalMart for less than 10 minutes. When I got to my car I noticed the suburban was gone. I looked to my right where the nearest gas station was, and saw no suburban.
I got situated in my car, fastened my seatbelt and turned left out of the parking lot to head home. A short distance from WalMart, on the right hand side of the road, was a liquor store called Whisky River. I happened to glance as I drove by, and there in the parking lot was the rusted suburban. I was overcome with "OH NO YOU DID NOT" emotion. Next door to the liquor store was a Radio Shack, and I immediately turned in the parking lot and flipped around. I pulled up next to that Suburban and parked. Oh yes - I had caught them red-handed.
I remember as soon as she saw me, her eyes got huge and I saw her sit up a little straighter as I rolled down the window. I can't imagine what was going through her mind, but I would have given another $5 to find out.
"What are you doing here?" I snapped.
"He just went in....he's...."
I interrupted. "You told me you wouldn't buy booze. You TOLD me you wouldn't! Do you care that you lied to me? Took advantage of me?"
"Well we got gas! We did, but then we had some money left."
"You bought gas and had change in a ten minute period and from a five dollar bill?!"
She stared and didn't answer. I looked inside the store and debated whether or not to go inside and confront the gentleman. I decided against it, however. All I wanted to do was yell at this couple and let them have it. I shook my head, closed my eyes, and turned back to face the woman. "All that I can do for you now is pray." I said. (Mind you - I did not think those words on my own. I only spoke them, and only because the Spirit persuaded my lips to speak them. It was not what I had intended to say, nor the impression I had planned to leave.)
Her shoulders sank, her eyes lowered, then she looked at me and said, "Thank you?" I rolled up the window, shot the car in reverse, and headed home. I was HOT. Whoooo I was hot. I was actually surprised in my anger I didn't go inside and grab the bottle out of the guy's hand. It's the redhead in me - I get mad, and I get my point across. I had been completely taken advantage of, and I contributed to and enabled an addiction. A bad habit. A false witness. I called my parents. I called my sister. (and to this day she can't believe I whipped my car around and confronted these people.) I vented to my husband. These liars! These creeps! Who did they think they were?!
Were they in need? Not of my money, and not of the alcohol they purchased with it. Should I have helped them? Differently. Yes, I should have. But differently. I sometimes still think about that night. I wonder what happened to them, where they ended up, and if they ever turned themselves around. I replay hearing that "Ma'am?" and thinking - if only I had driven to the gas station and given them gas instead of cash. How would I have felt if I had never seen their vehicle in the liquor store parking lot, and never known how they had used the money?
Were they in need? Absolutely. I look back on that night and think about the role mercy and compassion had. Initially I would say there wasn't any. However, the reason I was so upset was because I genuinely wanted to help. I wanted to believe these people were in trouble and that my measly five dollar donation would be enough to get them gas and nothing more...nothing controversial. I wanted these people to be honest, and to be blessed. I was more upset that they acted so deceitfully, not so much that I had been suckered.
What would the Good Samaritan have done? Part of me would love to think he would have turned his donkey right around to confront the rusty suburban! But these few years later I wonder - what if that night, and that experience, was more supposed to be a lesson for me than for that couple? What if God was trying to teach me about mercy and compassion? What if the redhead in me needs to get a different point across?