Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:36-37
Recently, I read Michelle Knight’s Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed, as well as Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. These books chronicled the horrific events of a decade in captivity for three young ladies in a busy neighborhood in nearby Cleveland, Ohio. I was amazed by the number of times that just one person, with intuition that something didn’t seem right, could have possibly shortened these ladies’ captivity by months or even years. As I read their stories, it seemed there were many such instances. However, we are a society that tries to mind our own business, and may not even know the people living next door to us. That thought brought another story to mind – one with the familiar title of The Good Samaritan.
The Good Samaritan is tucked into the pages of The Bible, in the tenth chapter of the gospel of Luke. A lawyer, trying to justify his own attitudes and actions, asks Jesus to share his definition of a neighbor. Jesus answers by telling a story of a man much like that lawyer, who was attacked by robbers as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two of the man’s fellow citizens – one a priest and the other a member of the priestly community – saw the man lying in the road, but chose to cross to the other side and leave him for dead. Then, a Samaritan – a man who any other day would be considered an enemy – came upon the injured individual, had compassion on him and rescued him. He chose to pay attention and to befriend his foe, knowing it was the right thing to do. At the story’s conclusion, Jesus asked this question:
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Just as the priest and Levite chose to overlook their fallen neighbor, the missed opportunities to help Ms. Knight and her fellow victims seemed endless. For instance, out of all the captor’s family members and guys from his band who would come to his home, didn’t anyone think it odd he had no less than seven locks on the front door? Or that all the windows were boarded up from the inside? Or how about the door to the basement being padlocked? Or that no one was ever allowed to walk upstairs? Or that there were mirrors on all four walls of the kitchen allowing him to always see what was going on behind him? Besides the visiting family and bandmates, this captor’s neighbors occasionally saw women dressed oddly (no winter coat, with wigs and sunglasses) doing strange things such as sawing wood in his backyard. All of these were overlooked opportunities to help, and they force me to ask myself,
“Do I know who lives around me? Would I be able to spot something that doesn’t seem quite right?”
The story of the Cleveland women’s escape is dramatic: After ten years of being chained up in the captor’s house and delivering a baby girl, Amanda Berry hears the yells of her young daughter.
“Mommy, Daddy’s gone. He left without me!”
Amanda Berry headed downstairs, shaking and terrified because her captor never left her door unlocked, and she knew that if he caught her she’d be brutally beaten. She got to the front door, and realized there was a storm door which was chained shut with a padlock. Amanda banged on and shoved the door, and finally opened it enough to get her whole arm out. As she frantically waved her arm, Amanda screamed as loud as she could, “Help me! I need to get out of here! I’m Amanda Berry and I’ve been kidnapped for ten years!”
Finally, a man came up to the front porch, but just stood there, looking at the door. An older lady came by on the sidewalk, and motioned for the man to step away from the porch.
As another man walked in front of the house, the old lady told him that the girl inside couldn’t be Amanda Berry, because Amanda died years ago. Amanda Berry or not, why were some people so reluctant to help her? Despite the woman’s protests, the second man came up on the porch, attempted to open the door and noticed the bottom panel was just cheap aluminum. As he started kicking it, Amanda joined in, until she finally could squeeze through. When she borrowed the man’s phone to call for help, even the 911 dispatcher argued with her about the home’s address. It seemed that everyone involved was slow to help a frantic woman desperately trying to get to safety!
News outlets from around the globe have reported the rest of the story. The rescue was successful and the women are now free! Despite the great ending, however, this story highlights two glaringly ugly truths: oppression of the most despicable kind is happening right in our own neighborhoods, some of which could end far earlier – or maybe even be averted – if we would choose to be the good neighbor Jesus described. Each one of us has the opportunity on a daily basis to look around us, pay more attention, and notice the little things. Would you join me in doing just that?
Who knows? Maybe someone’s life will be changed because of it.