How obligated are we to each other? Who is our neighbor? Jesus gives the last word on these questions in the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan, where he tells all of us to love each other, period. I took a fresh look at that story here. But I experienced the Good Samaritan firsthand, at the Gay Christian Network Conference in January.
A group of us had volunteered to work at a local homeless shelter before the conference. We had all boarded the elevated train – part of the excitement of our trip to Chicago! Four delightful young lesbian women and I had gotten seats together and were happily chatting away.
Then we noticed him just a few seats back, the man you ‘steer clear of.’ He was muttering away to no one in particular about “those homosexuals.” Everything is the fault of “those homosexuals.” He hadn’t specified what was wrong or how those homosexuals were responsible. Also, he was not mumbling in response to us, either, as none of the four women would be easy to identify as lesbian. Besides, his eyes were not even focused.
We glanced at each other but no one spoke.
Then he started muttering at the young man seated in front of him, who grew agitated. It looked like the kind of thing that suddenly inflames into a serious, or dangerous, altercation.
One of our young women slid into the seat next to the young man, acting as a buffer from the mutterer. She engaged the young man in gentle conversation. Her presence clearly comforted him. He confided to her some significant struggles he was going through, and she offered him encouragement. She said she’d pray for him. Her simple act of love not only defused the tension but offered hope to someone who was hopeless.
I was honored to witness this woman’s compassion for a man she’d never seen before, but who needed engagement, diversion.
And I thought of the story of the Good Samaritan… in a time when religious people viewed Samaritans as good for nothing, unfit for God’s kingdom. And here was this lovely lesbian woman… in a time when many religious people view lesbians as good for nothing, unfit for God’s kingdom. Both were the picture of a neighbor, as both offered hope to someone in need. Just the way Jesus invited us to.
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa