Musings on Mormonism

Good Samaritans among us

Happy 4th of July, everyone! I’ve been meaning to relate an incident I witnessed a week or two ago here in Alexandria, VA. First, a little context. The Old Town section of Alexandria is very charming, and I find myself walking up and down the particularly busy King Street pretty much on a daily basis. Typically, there are a number of homeless people sitting along the street here and there and, although I have offered some change once or twice, I find myself basically ignoring them when I walk past, as is seemingly the norm. I think this is an easy habit to develop, particularly among the relatively well-to-do; there are a number of ways to consciously justify such callousness, some fairly legitimate (this guy seems crazy and possibly dangerous), others not so dignified (this woman probably brought this on herself – incidentally, this one is explicitly challenged by the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible. See Mosiah 4:16-19, Deuteronomy 15:7-8). Also informing indifference to the homeless and poor, I believe, are such factors as the development of general indifference towards strangers (for the sake of not being nosy or disrespectful) and the frustration of not knowing how best to address the plight of the poor (we are finite beings with limited resources, and the needs of the poor may seem to require more than we can give). I do not pretend to have the answer to poverty – it is a huge and, in some ways, complex issue. However, I do not think the answer ultimately lies in government as now constituted, notwithstanding the aid which public services do provide, albeit imperfectly. To ultimately erase poverty, I believe, will require a drastic and willing change in how we as a society view property, our material needs, and our relationship with our fellow man.

That sounds like a pretty incredible set of circumstances, and some may assert that the expectation of such is hopelessly naive or downright impossible. Nevertheless, I believe they are changes which will occur over time as individuals learn from and apply the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ. Which brings me to the incident which I witnessed. On one of my many strolls down King Street, as I approached some homeless people thinking to myself, “Just ignore them – you’re justified”, a professional-looking lady ahead of me cheerfully asked one of the men if he had eaten lately, or something to that effect, and came to an agreement that she would return soon. As it turns out, I saw that lady about a half an hour later carrying a bag of takeout food in the direction of the homeless man. It was actually quite a simple occurrence, not at all dramatic and certainly without any fanfare on her part, but it nevertheless impacted me. It made me want to be more like that woman, less inclined to silently pass by these people every time, and more willing to share what I have with others. And that’s an interesting thing, because I don’t currently have much; I don’t have an income here yet, and I almost couldn’t pay rent this month. However, while I am not advocating extreme and unprincipled generosity, I do believe that it can be dangerous for our development as Christians to give excuses why we are unable to reach out to others. Admittedly, I have as much room for improvement in this as the next guy.

In closing, I believe that Good Samaritans such as this woman are not rare in America, although their good deeds are not typically broadcasted to the world, mostly by design. In large measure, such people reflect what is great about our country; the magnanimity to actively share the prosperity, with which we have been blessed with those who have not been as fortunate, with the recognition that the abundance we enjoy is a gift, not an entitlement.


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