Last Wednesday morning, on the way to a meeting, my car stopped accelerating. Then the engine died altogether. I was able to direct the car into the central turn-lane of Roosevelt Road, the major thoroughfare on which I was driving, but I was stuck. My gasoline gauge had been near empty for several days, I realized, but I had been waiting for the little orange gas light to inform me that I had to stop for gas, and it had not come on.
So I was stranded, with cars flying past me on both sides. Fortunately, I was only a few blocks from a gas station, so I turned on my hazard lights, stood for several minutes till there was a break in traffic that would allow me to cross over to the side of the street, and then ran to the gas station. BP has apparently realized that people who buy gas canisters are usually not on a condition to compare prices with other establishments, so I left with an overpriced gas can, filled it with a gallon of unleaded gasoline, and ran back to my car.
But even once I got there, I had a problem: I could not figure out how that gas container worked. I spent what seemed like about a half hour (but was probably five minutes) trying desperately to get the nozzle screwed onto the gas can so that I could pour the gas into the car. I was exasperated: dodging traffic, cold, and feeling really incompetent.
And then, two young men who apparently worked at the car wash across the street came out to help. It took them all of about five seconds to figure out how to screw on the nozzle, allowing me to add the fuel to my car. I thanked them—in English and in Spanish, because they appeared to be of Hispanic origin—and went on my way, my hands reeking of gasoline, but very, very grateful to be safely in a car and on my way.
It occurred to me later that I’d just experienced something like the guy beat up on the side of the Road to Jericho in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. My friend Alex Mandes has said that undocumented immigrants are the Samaritans of our society: reviled and disliked by many who think of themselves as superior than these people who have violated an immigration law and, although Jesus makes clear he loves them, people with whom some in the religious establishment are unsure they should associate. I’m not sure if the young men who were the only people to stop and help me last week were undocumented immigrants—they very well could have been U.S. citizens—but I do know that a recent University of Illinois-Chicago study found that 84% of carwash workers in the region are immigrants. The same study found that 75% of carwash workers in Chicago earn less than the legal minimum wage, with 13% reporting that they had earned less than $2 per hour in the previous week. While 80% of the carwash workers surveyed had worked more than forty hours in the previous week, only 2% reported being paid the legally-mandated rate of time and a half. Many lack legal status, which keeps them open to such exploitative working conditions.
I also do not know if any “priests” or “Levites” whizzed by me on their way to somewhere important last Wednesday morning as I sat stranded in the midst of four lanes of steady traffic, but in Wheaton, Illinois, there were probably quite a few evangelical Christians. I don’t blame them for not stopping—I certainly am not in a consistent habit of doing so when I see someone’s car broken down (not that I’d be particularly helpful if I did)—but I am grateful for the young men who did, who helped rescue me out of a minor but, for me, very stressful situation. It’s a good reminder that Jesus not only suggested, by his words and actions, that his followers should love Samaritans, he also suggested that we might have something to learn from them: he made a Samaritan the model of what it is to love our neighbors. And I’m commanded to “go and do likewise.”
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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