“I wonder, what difference does this make in your life, Michael?” This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot as I am now thoroughly underway in my last year at Princeton Theological Seminary. It weighed especially heavily on me on Sunday as I left church, where my Sunday School class was challenged to think about how the Psalms and the Bible in general were incorporated into their lives. Could I, in good conscience, tell all these young adults to read the Bible, to pray, and to memorize Scripture? What difference does all of this make? Does this even make a difference in my own life? I could not shake this question on the hour-long drive to Philly, where I was meeting someone for brunch. Then, as often happens, the coffee, breakfast burrito, extra potatoes on the side – and sitting across the table from a really attractive person – made me forget this crisis of existence, faith, and religion. (And for those keeping track, it was Not drunk brunch. Alcohol did not aid this time in forgetting my troubles.)
As I was driving home, I remembered that I had to get prizes for a game at youth group that night. The need to purchase the chocolate prizes, combined with my gas light turning on (for those of you on the revised common lectionary, yes, this was last Sunday when we read the gospel passage about the ten bridesmaids, five of whom ran out of oil), prompted me to swerve out of the exit lane from I-95 to 206, settling for the long way home. Mostly because I didn’t want to have to make any left turns and minimize clover leafs.
While my GPS freaked out and kept babbling, “Recalculating…Recalculating…Recalculating,” I cruised down Route 1 toward Trader Joe’s. On the side of the road, there was a car pulled over with the hazards blinking, and about 20 yards down the road, there was a woman walking with a gas can. And then I drove right past her and parked at Trader Joe’s.
I got out of my car and looked across the highway at the gas station on the other side of Route 1, across six lanes of traffic and a median concrete barrier. Apparently, the woman with the gas can also saw the gas station, because she stood on the opposite side of the highway looking for a break in the traffic. And at this point I found myself walking towards her. Since it was a highway, there was no break in the traffic. And so the woman’s efforts to run across the highway were thwarted, and I was right behind her before she heard me yelling, “Excuse me, Miss, do you need a ride?” It was kind of hard to be heard above the roar of car after passing car.
After we went to the gas station, (I gave in and made four clover leaf turns by going to the gas station before Trader Joe’s, but who’s counting?); and after her profuse thanks; and after her tearful story of how she had just come from Philly saying goodbye to her children before leaving to spend the holidays away from them for the first time; and after she swore I was sent by god; and after I dropped her back off at her car; I went back to Trader Joe’s for my chocolate.
And I wonder. I wonder if, contrary to the gospel reading, maybe those with oil will lend their oil to those without. I wonder if the woman had been white if someone would have stopped for her. I wonder if someone would stop for my mom if she ran out of gas. I wonder how many cars passed her as she walked along the highway with that empty gas can. I wonder if there is a god above who sent me to her. And still, I continue to wonder: What difference does this make in your life, Michael?