Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” ~ Luke 10:36-37
After eating three large meals, taking a hot shower, and sleeping the night in a dry bed in Gunnison, Ro and I returned to the Colorado Trail. We walked in a comfortable light rain on a long, flat section of the trail which meandered through a forest. After several miles, the trail opened up into a big valley with low lying peaks surrounding it.
We hoped to fill our water bottles up at Archuleta Creek, but it was just a mud bath. A couple of miles later, Los Creek, turned out to be “No Creek.” We were walking alongside an enormous ranch, so we knew the cattle had to drink water somewhere. The trail joined a forest service road which made for easy walking, but we were running out of water. The next water source was a patch of green muck with no flowing water.
“We’ll have to have a dry camp tonight and not fix a hot supper,” I said. “Yeah, we need to conserve our water,” said Ro. Nothing was worse on the trail than running low on water or running out of water and knowing there was not a reliable water source available for several hours. We just had to plug along.
As we moved up the forest service road, a beat-up white Ford truck passed us by, kicking up dust in our faces. It stopped about fifty yards past us. I could see an old cowboy with an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth looking at us in his sideview mirror. “I wonder what he wants,” I said to Ro.
We ambled to the other side of the narrow road to avoid passing directly by the old cowboy. As we strolled past his truck, he asked, “What are ya’ll doing?” “Walking,” I said. “Where ye walking?”
Ro and I stopped. “Oh, we’re walking home,” I replied. “Where’s that?” “It’s about 150, 160 miles west of here in a little town called Mancos.” “Huh,” the cowboy said. “That’s a long way.”
We moved closer to the cab but stayed out of his reach. The wrinkled cowboy had a stained straw cowboy hat and a carton of Marlboros on the dusty dashboard.
“Ya’ll need anything?” “Nope, we’re fine.” “How ‘bout some granola bars or some candy bars. I just got some supplies in town.” “Nope, we’re good.” “How ‘bout some pancake mix or some bacon. I’ve got real good bacon.” “That sounds good,” I said, “but we don’t have a way to cook it.”
“Oh,” the cowboy said while moving his cigarette to the other side of his mouth. “How ‘bout some water? Ya’ll need some water?” Ro and I looked at each other. Are you kidding us? “Yeah, we really need some water,” we said in unison.
The old crusty cowboy hobbled out of his truck and started tossing things around in the truck bed, looking for water. I saw a case of Coors Light and jokingly asked him, “Can we have that case of beer?”
He pushed it away from me but did not say anything. I figured that was a “NO.” Finally, he pulled a case of bottled water out from underneath a pile of junk. “Here, it is!” he said smiling for the very first time. “Take as much as you want!”
The grumpy old cowboy from Oklahoma City was an angel in disguise from heaven. Ro and I could not believe our good luck. That night we enjoyed a hot meal which required water to cook, and we were fully hydrated thanks to our Good Samaritan.
I always wonder, how often do we fail to see the Living Christ, angels, or Good Samaritans because we think they should look or act a certain way. Can angels and Good Samaritans smoke Marlboros and drink Coors Light?
When the angel appears to Zechariah, he is terrified and “fear overwhelmed him” (Luke 1:12). The angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). Because of fear, the priest and the Levite “pass by on the other side” (Luke 10:31) and fail to stop and help the wounded man. Father Richard Rohr writes, “The priest and the Levite are not necessarily bad people; they are just trying to maintain ritual purity so they could enter the Temple. This is part of the point of the story: love is more important than ritual purity.”
When Ro and I met the Marlboro smoking, Coors Light drinking Good Samaritan, we tried to “pass by” on the other side of the road, but he would not let us go by. Fear can prevent us from experiencing the Grace and Mercy of God. Fear can prevent us from loving another human being.
I do not remember the name of the old cowboy from Oklahoma City who gave us some water to drink, but I will not forget him and the compassion he showed us. He was a good neighbor.
May we “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Blessings and peace,