It was the first time I had ever travelled down this particular street.
It was Friday evening, and I was dropping my son off at a friend’s house for a sleepover. As we pulled over to the side of the road to park, we noticed an incident on the other side of the street. A taxi with hazard lights flashing, its driver talking excitedly into a mobile phone; a car haphazardly stationed half in a driveway, half on a nature strip; a handful of onlookers. And a man lying on the footpath.
I recognised the clothing—it was one of our Thrift Shop volunteers I had worked with and had chatted to just that morning. He had blood streaming down his face and was yelling, using quite a few expletives to explain that he didn’t want an ambulance.
As I knelt down and said his name, he stopped, and with an extremely bemused look through glazed eyes asked what I was doing there.
“God sent me,” I only half-jokingly said.
With his volunteer shift over, he’d followed his usual daily pattern and headed to a local watering hole for conversation over a few drinks. And again, following his usual daily pattern, he had consumed too many and on getting out of the taxi at the front of his unit had fallen and struck his head.
We got him to his feet, and as I thanked everyone for their concern I walked him down the driveway and into his home, unsuccessfully requesting numerous times for him to let me take him to the hospital. We laughed as the blood was cleaned off, incredulous as to how I had managed to be in that place at that time.
Because of some similarities, my mind was afterwards taken to the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, where an injured man who had suffered a beating at the hands of robbers was left alone by passers-by until that unlikely Samaritan stopped to render assistance. Jesus told the story to illustrate that when we’re told to love our neighbour, our neighbour is actually anyone in need.
I reflected that I had stopped under an obligation to someone I knew rather than from a compassionate response to a stranger.
But of course the Gospel story is far larger than helping an injured stranger—it’s about recognising that we should assist anyone who needs our help, whether they be asylum seekers, lonely people, those who are being persecuted or marginalised, people suffering addictions or homelessness or mental illness, those who are sad or grieving or financially in trouble. Our neighbour is anyone who needs a helping hand. And God sends us to provide help to our neighbour in many forms. Often love through friendship is enough.
A few months later my friend had a similar experience, falling as he alighted from a bus.
Sadly, this time the head injury he suffered proved to be life-ending. But, despite my sadness, I thank God for all the opportunities I had taken to be a Good Samaritan in his times of need, seeking to follow Christ’s commandment to love my neighbour. I know that love and my friendship made a difference in his life. May we all strive to be good neighbours, because changing the world starts with one life at a time.