At 10:48pm, a woman rang my doorbell. I had never met her and did not recognize her. She said she needed money for gas to get back to Arlington. She was ready with her story that she was in Charlottesville because a relative was at UVA Hospital. She explained that her children were in the car and she had no money for fuel.
I asked if she was going door-to-door in my neighborhood. She said no. She stopped at my house because she had a good feeling about it. Aside: we often leave the porch light on even though few of my neighbors do.
I asked how she reached my cul-de-sac when she had no fuel. She said someone offered to help but his card didn’t work, so he was giving her a ride.
She offered to show me her ID and said, “If not for me, please help for my children.”
I thought about it. As she talked, I thought about the $20 or so in my wallet. Do I need that? I often waste more than that much money on hobbies, frivolities, or eating out. It would cause me no problem to give her some cash.
Yet… something made me pause.
As I thought, Melanie yelled without knowing why the woman stopped, “Offer her some oranges or peanut butter.”
I told her that the woman wanted money for fuel. She repeated the food suggestion, so I offered the food to the woman. To which, she turned around and walked away, uttering a profanity-laden assessment of me and my house.
The whole time I thought about the Samaritan. Why not help? I could see the woman’s face in my door window and I was sitting within sight of the door. Was she or her friend there to harm or rob me? I don’t know. Will they come back? Were they assessing the ease of robbing us? I doubt it. She was in need.
The problem is I cannot ascertain her need. Did she need money? Maybe, but I don’t know why and how much. In any case, she must have been in a desperate situation to ring a stranger’s doorbell late at night.
In Luke 10.25-37, when someone asked Jesus what they needed to do to inherit eternal life [aside: quite a Pelagian question], Jesus pointed to the law and his interlocutor said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
The problem for the person questioning Jesus and for me tonight is: “Who is my neighbor?” Was that woman my neighbor? Yes. But, did she really need $20 from me? I don’t know. Would that have made much of a difference in her life? I doubt it.
When I ask questions like this, I wonder how much I am like the Levite or the Priest. Am I just rationalizing not helping? Or worse. Was that Jesus in disguise (cf. Matthew 25.31-46)? Did Jesus stand at my front door tonight and knock (Revelation 3.20)? If that was Jesus knocking and telling me in a clear voice what she needed, then I failed. I offered oranges instead of gasoline.
Did the Levite and the Priest rationalize why they couldn’t help the beaten traveler? Certainly. They passed on the other side of the road so they wouldn’t be unclean. I hemmed and hawed rather than helping because I could not be certain about the woman’s intentions.
I don’t know the answer. Do I have a right to sit in my living room and relax? As an American, absolutely. It’s part of the unalienable rights spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. I have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If I am happy relaxing in my living room with a good book, then no one has the right to disrupt me. However, as a Christian, God does not call me to be an island (John Donne).
1 John 1.7 says, “But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” We are part of one another. As Christians, we do not get to compartmentalize our lives from the lives of others. The woman who knocked on my door is my sister. Her problems are my problems. Whether she truly was out of gas and needed to get home, or there was something more sinister going on, her issues were my issues because I claim to walk in the light.
She asked for gas, and I offered some oranges. I feel more like a Levite or priest than a good Samaritan, but I don’t know. I will pray for her. I will also pray for myself and greater clarity with my discernment.