A man was going down the road between Marshall and Lafayette…
This is not a retelling of the famous parable in Luke 10 we often call the “good Samaritan.” There is no Samaritan in this story. Nor any good.
On Christmas Eve, a 41-year-old man died in Jefferson City, Missouri, on Commercial Avenue between Marshall and Lafayette Streets.
Of hypothermia. In the roadway.
Christmas lights dancing in the neighborhood.
Three churches (including my own) sitting one-third mile away.
Headlights passing by.
A life lost.
An unholy night.
I’ve never ridden or walked that old road between Jerusalem and Jericho. But I’ve driven on Commercial Avenue. I’ve never met a Samaritan. But I live in this town full of neighbors.
I didn’t pass by Commercial Avenue that night, but that doesn’t mean I can justify myself.
What if dying from “exposure to the elements” means more than just weather?
What elements in our society allow people to die from hypothermia in the streets amid thousands upon thousands of warm buildings? What elements in our society give more attention to the latest celebrity gossip, sports victory, or political tweet than the death of someone made in the image of God?
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Pope Francis asked in his 2013 exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.
We shine lights as we tell of the holy family who couldn’t find room in the inn, but homeless people sleep in the shadows of our cities.
We illuminate the dome of the state Capitol in festive green and red just a mile away from this block on Commercial Avenue, but think not of our neighbors when passing legislation in that building.
We spend billions upon billions on weapons of death while people die from basic medical conditions in the richest country in the world.
Exposure to these elements is deadly indeed.
But telling the story this way makes me uncomfortable. Now the parable seems dangerous, much as travel could be on that old Jericho road. So, perhaps we should leave the man on that distant dusty road with an exotic Samaritan coming to save him.
Then I can just enjoy the Christmas lights as I pass by.
Brian Kaylor is editor & president of Word&Way.