When I moved to the Philadelphia area in 2000 for grad school, I decided to apartment-hunt in Haddonfield. Some of my fellow students suggested it was cute, quaint, cheaper than Philly and close to the high speed line (which had stops at campus and in Philly). I backpacked through Europe two years earlier and felt confident that, having never been there, I could find my way around on foot easily.
Exiting the Haddonfield train stop, I wandered. I wandered, but didn’t see much in the way of apartments. After fifteen minutes, I realized I needed at least a map of the area. For whatever reason, I tried a travel agency. It was my first option, and they would have one, right? I asked the only woman working there if she had one, and she looked me up and down, asked me where I was from and smiled. No, she didn’t have a map. And clearly, offering a few directions wouldn’t help me. Hold on, she said.
She closed up her shop, directed me to her vintage VW and gave me a tour: the cute downtown area, the 7-11 and PJ Whelihan’s bar, the mid-sized Thriftway grocery store on a nearby corner and the sprawling Haddon hills apartment complex. They would likely have a few vacancies. “That is definitely where you want to live,” she said, and parked in front of the manager’s office while I inquired..
I spent two years in that apartment. As I sold my car before I left California, I was able to do my grocery shopping and catch the train within a short walk. The corner of the complex had a stop for the bus that went right to the Cherry Hill mall, AMC Theater, and Target. Would I have found this great apartment on my own, without her selfless help?
The idea that a stranger would go out of her way for a person seems strange to some, but as the Gospel of Luke demonstrates, this behavior has been around for a while, as shown in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
A teacher of the law tested Jesus about how to get into heaven (earn eternal life). Aside from telling the man that he needed to love God, be a good person, etc., Jesus emphasized the importance of caring for your neighbor, even if that person was the type of person you might typically avoid. To illustrate his point, he tells this parable:
A man went from Jerusalem to Jericho, where he was mugged, stripped of his clothes, and left for dead. A priest passes him and does nothing. So too does a Levite. A Samaritan (a racial minority despised in Israel), however, took pity on him, cleaned him up and secured him lodging at an inn at his own expense (10:30-35).
The teacher was impressed by the Samaritan’s use of mercy on a stranger. Jesus concurs and then orders the teacher to go into the world and show the same compassion (10:37).
This is one of those stories that people have probably heard of—being a good Samaritan—and not even known its Biblical origin. It’s also one of those stories that should (and probably does) transcend any religious belief—that makes it a good thing.
I have no idea what if any religious leanings that woman in Haddonfield had. All I know is that she was a kind woman who had no reason to extend a hand to a guy fresh from southern California, one who will always be grateful that she did. Her name is Sondra.