The Parable of the Good Samaritan – by Barry Van Dusen
Theological Reflection – Sunday July 14, 2013
Barry Van Dusen is an ordained minister with The Presbyterian Church in Canada, where he served as convenor of the church’s Justice Ministries Advisory Committee. He has also served as a volunteer fire and emergency chaplain and on the board of a number of local advocacy groups. Barry is currently at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Sarnia Ontario.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan was probably the first Bible story I learned in Sunday school. Or maybe it just seems that way because I can still close my eyes and see the colourful felt board characters used to teach the story. Either way, there are few Bible stories that are as familiar as this parable – one many of us learned before we could even read or write.
I’m not sure my basic understanding of this parable changed much over the years. But something happened last year that caused me to deepen my understanding.
After church on Sunday, July 1st, my wife and I and our two twenty-some-year-old children made a five hour drive to visit my ninety-one year old mother and to celebrate my birthday with her the following day. I had recently moved her into a retirement home where earlier that week she had fallen and broken her leg. On the way back to the hotel that night after visiting her, our car’s check engine light came on. So first thing the next morning, my birthday, I found myself sitting outside the town’s Canadian Tire automotive repair centre waiting for it open.
It was my birthday. I was sitting in my car in an empty Canadian Tire parking lot. I was worrying about the car and if we could leave that day and what the cost of the repair would be. And I was worrying too about my mother and getting angry at my brother for committing suicide three years ago and leaving me to care for our aging mother. In other words I was feeling sorry for myself. My world had shrunk down to ‘me’, a small and lonely place to be.
I was in my ‘poor me’ moment when God nudged me to look up and notice something in the ordinary. Nearby a man was sitting in a car with Wisconsin licence plates and a puddle of fluid under the engine. Not far from where we were parked was a Tim Horton’s so I walked over and asked if I could buy him a coffee. “Thanks” he said. When I returned with our coffees he got out of his car and we shook hands and introduced ourselves. I asked him where he was heading. “Quebec City”, he said “Sightseeing?” I asked. “Actually my son is studying French there.” I asked him what he did for a living and Dave told me he was a long haul trucker. And then he asked me what I did. “I’m a Presbyterian minister.”
Dave looked at me, took a deep breath and said, “My son isn’t in Quebec studying French, he’s at Donnaconna, a maximum-security prison near Quebec City.” He told me his son was living in Calgary and involved in drugs when he and a friend killed another drug dealer. His son was eighteen when convicted of second degree murder fourteen years earlier and still had another eleven years to serve. Dave spoke about his concern for his son in a place where violence is so common as well as what would await him when he’s released at the age of forty-three after having spent over half of his life behind bars.
When my car was ready and I was set to leave Dave and I shook hands. I gave him my business card in case he was ever through the Sarnia area and needed help. He thanked me for the coffee and for taking the time to talk with him and then he said “Barry, please pray for my son.” One father to another I assured him that I would.
A chance encounter of two fathers drinking coffee outside an automobile garage, how much more commonplace does it get than that? And yet God was surely present that day. I was feeling sorry for myself and needed a divine nudge out of myself and it came in the form of the father who needed to drive from Wisconsin to Quebec just to tell his son he still loves him.
A few months later I received a card in the mail from Dave. It read, “Dear Barry, you may not remember me, but I’m Dave. We met last summer at the Canadian Tire in Cobourg. You bought me a coffee and talked with me about my son. I just wanted to send this card and thank you. I think there’s something in the Bible about being blessed when you give a cup of coffee to a stranger. Thank you. It was a real pleasure meeting you. Dave.”
Dave thought that I had helped him. I guess I did but he helped me too, saving me not from robbers but from myself. Maybe when we show mercy to another mercy is also shown to us. I wonder how the Samaritan’s life was blessed because he stopped to help.