So if you haven’t heard, there has been a series of snowstorms on the East Coast, and it has made life very exciting in recent weeks. This year is the sixth year I’ve lived in the Greater Northeast, but I don’t think I ever had it this rough when it came to winter storms. I had never even heard of the term “polar vortex” until this year.
When I was a kid growing up in California, I would learn about snow life through things like Calvin and Hobbes, and I would find it so irrelevant. Shoveling snow? I had no framework for such a thing. Or snow chains for your tires? I had no idea what they even looked like. I saw snow maybe once a year, and that was at my youth group retreat at Camp Chinquapin.
Well, I’m living it now. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen cars stuck in the snow, and the sound of spinning tires trying to get traction on ice is everywhere.
Perhaps the one thing I didn’t realize about snowstorms, the one thing that really caught me off-guard, is how strangers are so willing to help each other in the snowstorm aftermath. Everywhere, I see people trying to get their cars out of the snow, and random people would drive up and ask, “Do you want a push?” It’s absolutely amazing how much compassion people have when they see others experiencing a familiar difficulty. There’s this feeling of I’ve-experienced-what-you’re-going-through-right-now-so-I-will-help-you. You can call it the common bond of suffering. Because these people have gone through this, for a moment, sacrificing time and energy for strangers is worthy.
Take yesterday for example. It was around 10pm, and as I was trying to park at a reverse angled parking spot on a one-way street, my car went in about halfway and got stuck. Looking back, I’m not too sure why I chose that spot, as there clearly was a lot of snow and ice piled up. I think I was just overly confident in the fact that my car had four-wheel drive. But there I was, half in the spot, half in the driving lane. Luckily, there was barely enough room for cars to drive by, but I couldn’t leave my car like that. And so the getting-my-car-unstuck process began.
I tried all sorts of things, from shoveling to putting table salt around my tires to pouring windshield washer fluid around my tires to pulling on jumper cables that I had tied to my roof rack.
I was going at this for about an hour or so, and then I noticed this guy walk to his own car down the block, start it up, and screech his frictionless tires. He went at it for a while, got out, walked over, and offered to help push my car. I said sure. No luck. Then I offered to push his, and of course it works. He went on his merry way.
A little while later, this lady who lived nearby opened her door and offered me her shovel. I had been using this poly shovel, and she had a metal one. Why thank you! How nice!
I probably went through four more cycles of shoveling and pedaling, and by now I had about going at this for three hours. No joke. The only thing that kept me going was this possibly false hope that I was making some progress. But I was reaching a point where that possibly false hope seemed more and more unlikely.
And then it started snowing. “Woe is me!” I cried.
I was frustrated, to say the least. I told myself that now was as good of a time as any to give up, but I had to mentally prepare myself. I got in the car and just sat there for a while, thinking about tomorrow’s schedule as I stared up at the overhanging trees. All of a sudden, a couple comes up in a red Honda Civic and parks right next to me. The driver comes up and offers to push my car.
It works. Finally.
There were few times in my life when I experienced gratitude as much as I did during that moment. I felt like the man beaten up on the road to Jericho, and this stranger was my Good Samaritan.
I recently gave a talk at George Mason Epic on that. I talked about how we as Christians need to have transformed relationships with strangers, and I talked about the story of the Good Samaritan, and how Jesus was telling the story to demonstrate the difference between legalism and compassion. The legalist invests in relationships so that he can get what he wants in the end. In other words, he uses relationships as a means to a selfish end. The man of compassion chooses to work at their relationships regardless of what he will get out of it. The legalist asks, “What must I do?” The man of compassion asks, “What can I do?”
Obviously, I can’t judge the people who dropped by to help push my car. But the first guy who tried to push my car ended up not pushing my car out, but as a result he got his car out. Again, I’m not saying anything about his motives, because maybe he was in a hurry or something, but the reality is he got what he needed. The second guy didn’t need anything. His car wasn’t stuck. But he chose to help me regardless of what I would give him.
What a demonstration of the Good Samaritan. And what a demonstration of Jesus. While our cars were stuck in the snow, Jesus had the only functional car. Jesus didn’t have an I’ve-experienced-what-you’re-going-through-right-now-so-I-will-help-you feeling. His car was never ever stuck in the snow, so nobody had ever helped him get his car out before. There was never an I’ve-been-there mentality. But the beautiful thing about the gospel was that He chose to be there. He chose to become human, to become like one of us. He didn’t need to do it, but He chose to experience our lives. And not only that, but He chose to brave the snowstorm, and He chose to give time, energy, and ultimately his life to push us out. He wasn’t doing it to get anything out of us. He just did it because He loved us.