When the stranger lies bleeding along the side of the road, is it our first instinct to go toward him and ask what he needs? Or do we pass by him, murmuring, “What is that man to me?”
I grow weary and heavy due to the callousness of modernity. Severed from true friendships, we have become strangers to more and more people. Our close-knit social ties grow thin, the bonds weaker. Yet losing our strong social ties has not led to a countermovement, a commitment to caring for the stranger. Quite the contrary, the stranger is neglected in part because we falsely believe that some institution will codify and take care of him. The church, the hospital, some social service, some unknown family member, a hospice care worker–some institution, some entity surely will anyway.
Meanwhile, we keep passing by strangers, desperate for our care, and, what is worse, we teach ourselves to neglect them. We wish them away; we wish they wouldn’t approach us; we train ourselves to believe that we can do nothing for them. That might be fine were it not actually false.
It is rather that we do not dare to perceive that not all strangers but this, this particular stranger lies cold before me and has open wounds. We lack the courage to perceive that this is so and that we can truly act. I must say that my heart is saddened by this at the same time that my resolve is strengthened. I shall not let pass by the stranger but, like the good Samaritan, shall dare to perceive and be courageous enough to act. No more can I neglect him than I can neglect my own; no more can I deny him than I can deny my own; no more can I leave him as he is than I can leave my own, injured and screaming. Only in such acts of loving courage can we move past tribalism as well as callousness.