Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions
A remarkable thing happened on 2nd January 2007 on a New York City subway station, when a crowd of people were waiting for a train to come. It was 12:45 in the afternoon and Wesley Autrey was standing there with his two daughters, when suddenly a 19-year-old man named Cameron Hollopeter had a seizure. He fell to the ground, got back up, and began stumbling along the edge of the subway platform—and then tumbled down into the railway bed, right as the rumbling of an approaching train began to shake the station.
No one managed to capture the moment on video, but we know how the people in the subway probably reacted. Some turned away, eyes clenched against the horror of what was happening. Other commuters stood frozen in a sense of utter helplessness. Others were in such a hurry to get to where they needed to go, that they missed the moment altogether. In mere seconds, a young 19-year-man with dreams of becoming a Hollywood producer would meet an unthinkably violent end—and no one could stop it. No-one would stop it—except a 50-year-old construction worker and ex-Navy man: Wesley Autrey did the unthinkable.
This middle-aged black man from Harlem, who had little in common with a white Harvard student, chose to do what no-one else was going to do. Autrey strode across that subway platform, jumped down into the ditch, and covered Hollopeter’s writhing body with his own. He held him against the ground while the subway train thundered over them. Perhaps due to his construction experience he knew there was a 2-foot clearance under the train.
Later, when interviewed about the incident, Autrey said that when he saw the headlights of the No. 1 train appear, he knew he had to make a split decision. He said, “I don’t feel like I did something spectacular; I just saw someone who needed help.” The fact was that Hollopeter was in need—in fact he faced a terrible death. Famous for such a wonderful act of bravery he was awarded many times and is still known today as the ‘Subway Samaritan’.
What a wonderful story of love, compassion. Years ago Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (and we’ll talk a bit more about the story later), who went out of his way to help a man he didn’t know. Why would he bother? A man who had been bashed, robbed, and left for dead on a dangerous road. We read all about it in Luke 10, verses 25-37, where a Jewish theologian and an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” In asking a question like this, the Old Testament lawyer was doing what most lawyers do so well. He was looking for a loophole in the law. He was saying:
“Do I have to love everyone? If there is a neighbour that I must love, is there also a non-neighbour I do not need to love? Where should I draw the line, Jesus?”
This man apparently thought he could put up fences limiting his neighbourliness. And his fellow rabbis had already spent a great deal of time exploring this very issue.
I guess it’s easy for us to be critical of his attitude, but it is far more common even today than we care to admit. I mean, you and I are very good at limiting our neighbourliness.
- We travel on buses and trains every day and never make eye-contact with the people around us. No-one talks to anyone else.
- We can live next door to people and they are like strangers to us because we rarely involve ourselves in their lives. We never make it our business to know about their needs.
I mean, if we were honest with ourselves we would have to admit that, just like this man in the parable, we tend to pick and choose with whom we will be ‘neighbourly’. Again and again we put our own needs and lives first. In our busy-ness we all struggle from time to time with what has been called the ‘disease of me’. Like this ancient Biblical theologian, we wonder, “Certainly there are limits to my love. I mean how far does my responsibility go? Who is my neighbour? Who don’t I have to love?”
A newspaper report recently told how a good Samaritan who was minding his own business driving to work one day, helped the police catch two men wanted over a sex attack on a young girl at a night club. She was walking to the car park and they grabbed her, took her to a railway reserve and assaulted her. She ran away and flagged down this motorist who took her to the nearest hospital for help. He didn’t give his name, but he truly was a ‘good Samaritan’.
The Christian faith is basically all about a heart relationship with God—a relationship that shapes every facet of life. It affects the way we treat others. We can’t say we love God and not help others. As 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Love for people is an overflow of our love for God. So when we don’t have enough love for those around us in need—well, this is an indication of an even greater lack. Martin Luther once said, “Faith alone justifies, yet faith is never alone. It is never without love; if love is lacking, neither is there faith, but mere hypocrisy.”
Source: Redland Baptist Church, Rockville, Maryland USA