Peace be with you!
As an individual with Cerebral Palsy, I know how it feels to be the dying man in the Gospel reading. No, I have never been close to dying, except at my birth, but some days it feels like society would like me to not be alive or at least be an active individual in the world . One day stands out in my memory as being one of those days where my pure presence disgusted others. I had just started my third and final year of seminary. I had a half a day of classes and needed to stop at Archiver’s. I decided to take the bus to Archiver’s and then home. The night before, I figured out which buses to take. I got on the first bus without a problem; the driver tied down my electric wheelchair and let me off at my next stop. I waited a few minutes for the next bus.
When I got on the second bus, the bus driver made a fuss that I had no one with me and told me I needed someone with me to strap my electric wheelchair down. Then these two ladies started saying I should take the Metro Mobility, which is door-to-door transportation for people who are disabled. Unfortunately, Metro Mobility requires you to apply for their program in advance. Once accepted, you have to schedule your rides three days in advance, which is a significant inconvenience. The older lady was worried that I was getting on the wrong bus, and I honestly thought she was going to call the bus company. She kept telling me that it was a liability for the driver to tie me down and that if I had no one with me, I needed to take the van service. She took no time at all to listen. The whole time, the bus driver was claiming it was not his job to tie down my wheelchair. Then the driver would not let me off at the bus stop where I needed to go to get to Archiver’s and made me get off at the Rosedale Mall instead. Although I could drive my wheelchair to my destination from there, I was worried about the four lanes of mall traffic and the parking lot with a few dozen blind spots. Plus, the mall is an odd shape and I am directionally challenged.
At this point, I was beyond frustrated and was texting a few dozen friends who I thought might be on the computer and could tell me where a Metro Transit store was, so I could check and see if I or the bus driver was correct. I thought the mall had a store, but there turned out to just be a room to keep dry and/or warm in.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is asked by a Jewish lawyer how to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25). Jesus directs the lawyer back to the Torah and asks what it says to do (Luke 10:26). The lawyer answers Jesus, “Well, it says to love your Lord with your whole heart and to treat your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Jesus says, “You are correct. Go do as you were taught” (Luke 10:28).
The lawyer has a follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). He is hoping for the simple answer (“those who live near you”) in order to justify himself. We can relate to the lawyer. We like to be around those individuals who are like ourselves. However, Jesus widens the scope of our neighborhood.
Jesus launches into a story. A man is traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho when he is jumped by robbers and is left to die (Luke 10:30). There are three men who pass him. The first two men–a priest and a Levite– avoid the man by going on the other side of the road (Luke 10:31-32). The priest and the Levite have a good reason to avoid the dying man: he is unclean according to the Torah.
A Samaritan passed the dying man, took pity on him, and took care of his wounds and put him up in an inn (Luke 10:33-34). When he left the man, the Samaritan promised to repay the innkeeper for taking care of him (Luke 10:35). Jesus turns to the lawyer and asks, “Who was a neighbor to the dying man?” (Luke 10:36). I imagine the lawyer takes his time answering when he says, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37a NRSV). The lawyer is probably afraid of Jesus will say next, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37b NRSV).
The author of the Gospel of Luke does not tells us how the lawyer responds. In my imagination, the lawyer goes away sulking and later realizes Jesus is correct: anyone you meet is your neighbor. The scope of one’s neighborhood is wide. It is no longer just your tribe—your coworkers, friends and family. Your neighborhood is wherever you go anytime of the day, month, and year.
As technology advances, our neighborhoods continue to widen and expand. Before my challenging bus ride, I had just reconnected on Facebook with my childhood friend from camp, Amber. . Amber, who lived two hours away, ended being able to call the Metro bus system for me by using IP-Relay (since her speech is difficult to understand, like mine). The rep told Amber that it is the driver’s job to tie a wheelchair down. In the word of Professor James Boyce, “Taaaada!” (I understand only my Luther Seminary friends understand the “Taaaada!” but it was his way of exclaiming the obvisious.)
I learned just how big my neighborhood was that day. Once I got home, I posted a Facebook note about what happened since I basically texted everyone in my phone. People who I barely knew were outraged by how I was treated as an inconvenience. I am a human being who just happens to be in an electric wheelchair. Just like everyone else, I have places to go and no time to waste.
SEVEN TAAAADA’S (you need seven to be theologically sound):
1. All of the bus drivers during State Fair the week before were awesome and tied my wheelchair down, even when my friends were with me. This is why my friends were not worried when I said I was taking the bus. Taaaada!
2. I remember seeing a sign on a few buses during State Fair encouraging passengers in wheelchairs to ask the bus driver to tie them down. Taaaada!
3. I have on buses in Madison, Milwaukee, Park City, and New York where all the drivers tied me down, even when I had friends with me. Taaaada!
4. If Anita was with me, a fuse would have broke! Just add the fuel to the fire! Taaaada!
5. I want to find a rulebook for the Metro Bus System and carry it with me, so if any other driver pulls this I can show them where it says they have tie any wheelchair down. Taaaada!
6. Let’s talk about the “liability” the older lady was so concerned about. In my humble opinion, the “liability” happens when the driver does not tie a wheelchair down. Taaaada!
7. I will ride the bus again. Taaaada!
The older I get, the more I realize you need a community around you. A community takes care of each other. You need neighbors. We need each other to get through this thing called life. And God has given us to each other.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the loving Samaritan who sets such a neighborly example. Guide us to care for our neighbors, even those who are different from us. Remind us we are all your children. Thank you for the communities you have given us to nurture and care for us. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. How big is your neighborhood?
2. How do you care for your neighbors?