A dirty cup of water

I saw something last night that really disturbed me. It didn’t all really click and set in at the time, but as the scene has continued to replay itself in my head over the last day, it pulls at my heart-strings.

At the moment, I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas with two of my sons. We’re spending a few nights here while they compete in the 50th anniversary World Championships of the ATA (American Taekwondo Association.)

Here’s the scene: Last night, we were having a quick bite to eat at a simple, local counter-service establishment. As we were sitting and eating, from across the room, I could see a man come into the restaurant, look at the counter and look around to survey whether anyone was noticing him, and then head to a trash can near the beverage counter. He didn’t look overly suspicious other than the way he came into the restaurant.  He looked tired and sweaty, but his clothes weren’t as rough or dirty as one might expect from a homeless person. But he proceeded to fish around in the trash can, find a plastic cup that wasn’t too dirty, and fill it with water from the soda machine.  He sat for a few minutes, savored the water, refilled the cup a bit more, took another big drink, and then threw the cup away, looked around again, and left the restaurant.

It was a hot day. I’m sure the man, if he was out walking on the streets, was in danger of heat exhaustion or worse. At the very least, he certainly needed a basic essential like water to even continue to survive.

I suppose that I was partially in amazement and partially in awe, but mainly just struck with wondering about him and his situation, that I didn’t jump into action to see if there was anything else I could do for him. (Ironic, at the World Expo of an organization whose motto is, “Always take action.”) I suppose that I also didn’t want to embarrass him or call attention to him because of how he had entered the restaurant and the way the whole scene had played out.

Like I said, though, that scene has continued to replay in my mind over the last day.

In this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we will hear Jesus tell the parable of the Good Samaritan to the scholar of the law who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

In the parable, both a priest and a Levite come upon a man along the road who had been robbed, beaten, and left half-dead. Both saw him but passed by on the opposite side of the road, avoiding him and avoiding stepping in to help.

It took a Samaritan man, an outsider – an alien, to come along and take action.

The Samaritan man not only stepped in to provide immediate help, cleaning and bandaging his wounds and giving immediate aid, but then also took him to an inn, cared for him further, and arranged for the innkeeper to continue to care for him. He went so far as to say that he’d come back by to check and ensure that the stranger had been cared for.

This parable begs me to question how I had treated this “neighbor” with the dirty cup of water. Certainly not in the way that I hope and pray that I would. I can try to excuse it because of the way that it played out, and because I was focused on my sons, or other things. But I can also pray that I might find a better way to help in the situation next time.

Today, on our walk from the hotel to the tournament at the convention center, along the same little stretch of street – on the same block or the next block down from where we were last night, I saw an entirely different scene.  Another restaurant had put out a 5-gallon cooler of water and some cups for those passing by. There, I realized, was a modern-day “Samaritan” in the form of a business owner doing a good deed in the neighborhood.  It would be just as easy to ignore those on the street, to avoid the liability, or the cost, or whatever else. But here was a business owner who was choosing to take a simple step to make a difference for those who might need a simple drink of water.

“Who is my neighbor?”

What a great question to ponder. And what a great challenge to see and serve our neighbor in need… perhaps even more so in our modern society when it’s so easy for someone to slip through the door, steal some essential water in a dirty cup, and go otherwise unseen or ignored.

God, please grant me the grace to see my neighbor in need, to pass on his side of the road, and to help in the ways I’m able.

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