This is a story (the first part, anyway) of a young woman who opened a letter that came in the mail one day and found a check for $200. She had bumped into one of her uncles at a family event a few weeks previous. He had commented that he still felt guilty for not paying her for some work she had done for him some thirty years ago when she was a teenager. The woman had tried to assure him that he didn't owe her a thing, but yet here was the envelope and the check. She didn't want it, didn't need it, and while she remembered doing the job, she had never expected any payment for it.. She wanted to send the check back. But something stopped her. She called her father for advice.
"It was a debt that had bothered him for years," her dad said. "You need to let him pay it, so that his mind is clear."
That story reminded me a bit of a talk I once heard on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest who gave it said that there were three components to the story. First, of course, you have the Samaritan, who gets the most attention--and the most credit. Samaritans and Jews didn't exactly get along at that time and we don't really even know who the injured man really was. Nonetheless, the Samaritan stopped to help, after several other people had passed the man by, reminding us all that we have an obligation to those less fortunate.
There is also the innkeeper, who takes in the man after the Samaritan brings him there, and who trusts that he will be paid later. This, too, is a good example for us who often look with suspicion on people who make promises.
The third figure in the picture is the injured man himself and if you really think about it, he was in the hardest position of all. It's a place that few of us want to be in--obligated to someone else. We resist it. We can do it all ourselves, can't we? We don't need any help.
My mother was as independent as they come. She'd had to pull herself up by her bootstraps so many times, it's a wonder she had any bootstraps left. We all loved her, but we tread carefully. In her later years, if any of us tried to take her arm to steady her over a rough patch, she'd glare at us and say, "When I want your help, I'll ask for it." (And to be honest, the older I get, the more I understand her.) One day, however, she fell and broke both wrists. It's pretty hard when you can't turn on a water tap or the television set or make yourself a cup of coffee, or even get dressed. You don't have much choice.
And so, the young woman swallowed her pride, kept the $200 check, and thanked her uncle. Then she passed the money along to a needy organization, thus paying the good deed forward.
I don't think I'll ever forget how the priest who told the Good Samaritan story ended his talk.
"Sometimes, you have to be the one in the ditch."