A few days ago, my little sister was volunteering at a nursing home and ended up spending an hour with a lovely elderly woman. This woman was a bit disoriented, fuzzy on what was happening around her, but she lit up as she began to reminisce about her late husband—“so tall and handsome”—her children, her growing-up years in rural Alaska. She talked and talked until my sister’s time was up.
“Thank you so much for stopping,” the lady said. And then, she reached out to hold my sister’s hand. “Everyone else just walks on by.”
That sentence breaks my heart.
I spent over a year working as a CNA in a nursing home. One of my most memorable experiences involves a sweet 90-something lady named Vera. It’d been a nightmarish shift: understaffed, contagious illness, combative dementia patients, malfunctioning equipment, messes everywhere. I was beyond stressed, near tears, praying for the shift to be over already. Just get me outta here, Lord. As I finished her roommate’s nightly routine and headed for the door, Vera—tiny and frail, with white dandelion-fluff hair—called me over to her bed. When I got there, she reached for my hand and said in a voice no louder than a whisper: “Please tell me that Jesus loves me and I love him. I need to hear it.”
There was so much else I needed to do. But what Vera needed was for someone to stop—long enough to hold her hand, hollow-boned like a bird, and tell her how fiercely her Lord loves her. And in a shift of emptying bedpans and spoon-feeding meals and cleaning up body fluids, I think that tiny moment where all the chaos came screeching to a halt for Vera was, maybe, what mattered most.
We’re all familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells a story of a man attacked by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He’s left lying in the thoroughfare, naked and half-dead. First a priest comes by, but when he sees the man, he switches to the other side of the road and walks past without stopping. Then a Levite walks down the road; he, too, passes the man. Finally, a Samaritan arrives and this time, he stops. He pours oil and wine on the man’s wounds, bandages him, puts him on his own donkey and takes him to an inn where the Samaritan nurses him, paying the innkeeper two days’ wages to provide the best food and lodging.
Everything the Samaritan did for the man—his compassion, his over-the-top generosity—is important. But his defining moment, the tipping point that separated him from the other travelers walking by, was his choice to stop.
What did he sacrifice in order to make that choice, I wonder? The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was notoriously treacherous and winding, not the kind of road for a casual stroll. The Samaritan had a good reason to be on that road. Did he have a packed schedule ahead in Jerusalem? Business meetings that couldn’t wait? Dinner plans with friends? Or was he just tempted to avoid the hassle of helping a stranger?
Did the man in the road reach out his hand and whisper, “everyone else has walked by?”
I think the saddest part of the Good Samaritan story is that before he showed up, the others who ignored the man in the road were a priest and a Levite. They were the people of God. They knew His law and His love. And yet, when they saw that man, they scooted on past him. It was a Samaritan, a non-believing enemy of the Jews, who showed him compassion.
It’d be nice if we could write these two off as terrible people, atypical, the rare bad apple in the barrel. But as a priest and a Levite, these men were the most moral and righteous in Israel, living lives of external holiness and religious ritual. Very possibly they were on their way to Jerusalem to contribute to some good cause. Maybe they were caught up in faraway charitable efforts and ambitious political ideals, so busy with “Kingdom work” that they walked right by the Kingdom itself, bleeding out in the dusty road. Sound familiar?
It’s a sobering reality check. But it’s also an encouragement.
I’m only a college kid, poor and landlocked (and sleep-deprived). Maybe you are, too. Maybe right now, you and I can’t perform lifesaving surgery on a child in Ethiopia. We can’t feed 300 Ukrainian preschoolers lunch every day. We can’t build wells for clean water in Thailand. We can’t start an inner-city program to mentor ex-gang members. We can’t teach women in India a trade that will allow them to escape prostitution.
But you and I, we can stop.
The Kingdom today probably isn’t a beat-up man lying alone in the road. But it’s the barista who makes my coffee every morning on the way to work, exchanging small talk a hundred times and never having a real conversation. It’s the smelly homeless man slouched against the wall of the subway stop, as people walk at least ten feet around him. It’s the invisible janitor in the background, working three jobs but still not able to pay the electric bill. It’s the old lady with a heart-full of young memories sitting in a wheelchair, starving to tell her story.
“Everyone else just walks on by.”
As Christians, we’re the hands and feet of Jesus. Sometimes that means our hands and our feet will be motionless, as we sit still on life’s road with someone precious and broken. It’ll take our time, our convenience, and our comfort zone. But in the end, that’s who we are meant to be—the mirror image of a God who pauses to be with us, over and over again.
We are the people who stop.