I recently posted about a boy we discovered while driving through our new neighborhood. The boy had been locked in an animal cage by his brother and left by the road across the street from their house. We set him free, but we didn’t get the full story. Yesterday the boy from the cage and one of his friends came by after school to visit our grandson. Soon both of the mothers of the visiting boys came by for a visit as well. We finally got the full story, and it turns out that things weren’t as they appeared.
The boy and his brother actually had been collaborating in an experiment to see how people would react to a child locked in a cage on the side of a road. (Sounds similar to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t it?) While we were told that the older brother had locked his brother in the cage and left him beside the road, actually the boys had collaborated in the stunt. The younger boy got in the cage, and the older boy hid across the street and watched to see what would happen.
When their mother learned that the new neighbors (us) had been drawn into this stunt and thought that it was a real dispute between the brothers, she was embarrassed. She knew that the stunt was real enough to allow people to misjudge her family life. On the other hand, the mom seemed proud of the boy’s “test” of their neighbors. She talked in particular about an older man who walked right by and hardly gave the caged child a notice.
Obviously we passed “the test” because we stopped and set the boy “free.” The test was a “charade,” but it was realistic enough to make us think that the situation was one of real need.
“Tricks” like this probably don’t advance people’s willingness to take a risk and offer help to people in need. On the other hand, is it not better to offer help even if the situation is a hoax than to turn aside and leave a true victim lying by the road in need of help?
Our society often is short in addressing obvious needs because we have a hard time assessing genuine needs. We faced this dilemma frequently in the benevolence ministry of our church in Jefferson City, TN. We met on Tuesday mornings and generally had 3-5 interviews with people who had asked for assistance from the church. They needed help with paying utility bills, buying food, getting transportation to a doctor’s office, or some similar kind of need. We found a few hucksters along the way, and we marked them off the list of those whom we had helped who seemed to have genuine needs. We may have judged unfairly occasionally, but we still provided well over $20,000 of assistance each year.
The old saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” might be a way of applying the “Good Samaritan Test” in many situations. I’d rather be a fool for Christ’s sake in helping a few who might be exploiting the system so that many with genuine needs might be helped.