“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan ...came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.”
Early one morning Carol and I were walking along the beach. We were on an uninhabited stretch of shoreline, and the tide had been ebbing for a couple of hours. After about a half hour, I noticed something in the sand ahead of us. As we got closer, I could tell it was a horseshoe crab, lying on its back. At first I thought it was dead, but then when I tapped it with the toe of my shoe it moved. Evidently the tide had turned the crab upside down, and now it was stuck.
Like a turtle on its back, the horseshoe crab is totally defenseless. The sun will quickly scorch the crab's body, and it will die. Plus, the seagulls and other birds would soon come and begin to peck at it mercilessly. It was a gruesome thought.
This was the first time I had ever seen a horseshoe crab, other than in places like a children's museum. In those instances, the crab was always on its belly, and all saw saw were the shell and the tail, which are harmless. But on its back, it looks kinda scary.
Part of me wanted to help the poor, defenseless thing; it would die without help. But part of me was scared—I mean, there are a lot of pointed things under the shell. Sharp-looking pointed things.
Finally, I realized that I could probably turn it over where it was, and then pick it up on the outside of the shell and position it where the water was coming up onto the beach. So that's what I did. And lo and behold, the crab started to move—ever so slowly—right into the oncoming surf. Soon it had returned to the safety of the water.
I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself, when a couple of hundred yards later I saw another horseshoe crab. This one was much larger, and it was also farther up the beach, to the highest point the tide had reached. It was going to take a lot longer for this one to reach the water, so I ended up picking it up and carrying it part of the way.
So that day I saved, not one, but TWO lives. I did it. Yep, me. Go ahead and nod approvingly—I most certainly deserve it.
But later I thought to myself, “What if I had just walked past the crabs, and did nothing?” They almost certainly would've died...
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Jesus told the story of the man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The first two people who came upon the man – the official representatives of God – passed by on the other side of the road. They looked the other way. They did nothing.
Jesus doesn't say why they don't stop to help the man. People have speculated that maybe they were afraid it was a trap, and that robbers would come as soon as they stooped over to help the man. Maybe they were in a hurry and couldn't afford the time to stop and help. Maybe they were aware that contact with blood and/or a dead body would make them ritually unclean and unable to work for at least a week. Maybe they just afraid. We really don't know why; we just know that they didn't stop to help the man.
Whenever I've read that story, I have always shaken my head and whispered, “Tsssk, Tsssk” at the priest and the Levite. “Shameful, they are,” I think to myself.
And yet, how far from them am I, really? I know that there are times when I can offer my help, but I don't. You know the excuses—too busy, not sure I'd know what to do, what if I say or do something wrong?, I'm afraid of messing up...
It turns out that I cross to the other side of the street more than I want to admit. Please don't “Tsssk, Tsssk” me. I'm not proud of it. I don't want to be the one who plays the part of the priest and the Levite. And I'm sure you don't want to be that person, either.
Believe it or not, this actually has something to do with my “heroic” rescue of the horseshoe crabs. You see, when I came across the horseshoe crabs, I was afraid. They scared me. But I took the time to confront my fears, and sought to do the right thing. I didn't let my first impression prevent me from helping one of God's creatures in need.
My encounter with the crabs reminded me how important it is to struggle past the excuses, and offer a helping hand. Compassion and care needs to overcome our fears and our hesitancy. I know this is hard, especially when it means helping a stranger. Strangers can be intimidating, simply because there is so much that we don't know about them. But Jesus reminds us that strangers are our neighbors, too. Or, to be more precise, we are to be a neighbor even to strangers.
Recently a woman came into the office at church. She is a “regular” who comes off the street just about every month. We all know her by name. My first instinct, I'll admit, was, “I'm going to send her on her way. I don't have time for her today.” But then I felt a little nudge (probably God, or the Holy Spirit, go figure): “Let her into the office; hear what she has to say.”
So I spent a little time with her. She has to live off of $735 in disability, and $30 in food stamps each month. She has to pay her own rent and utilities with that money, and feed herself and buy basic necessities like clothing and toilet paper and laundry. She broke down into tears, “Steve, I actually begged for money from a stranger in the parking lot at the store today. I can't do that—the police will arrest me if I do that.”
I gave her a little bit of money. She won't spend it on alcohol or tobacco; I think I know her well enough for that. It's not enough even for her to get what she needs for the rest of the month. But it was something. As she left, I gave her hand a little squeeze, put my arm on my shoulder, and assured her that she would be okay.
She was one for whom Jesus says I am to be a neighbor. I hope that she left with something of a sense of God's love for her. She is struggling to find God's love in her life, so I hope that just to spend a few minutes with her was a way to let her know that she is loved.
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Here's an interesting tidbit about the horseshoe crab: I learned later on that medical equipment is tested for contamination with a product made from the blood of the horseshoe crab. There are people who catch the crabs, gently extract a little bit of their blood, and then return the crabs to the ocean. And then they make a serum that is used to detect impurities and contaminants on medical equipment.
It turns out that maybe I helped someone else when I put those two crabs back into the ocean.
It just goes to show, you never know how far down your good deed will go. So, be a good neighbor to those in need. It's probably going to do a lot more good than you think.