Picture this: You wake to find yourself in a strange bed in a strange room, unable to move your right arm and tasting blood on split lip. Your right eye is swollen shut, and you can only partially open your puffy left eye. But this takes so much effort that you close it again, sliding back into darkness.
When you wake anew, you see sunlight streaming in the crack beneath the door, illuminating beside you a bedside table with a cup of tea. Where are you?
To deepen the mystery, the door swings open to reveal the silhouette of a woman you don’t recognize. “I was wondering when you would wake up,” she says, “How is your head feeling?”
“What happened?” you ask.
“You were beat up… we think by robbers hiding in the thicket beside the road.”
“Who brought me here?”
“But who? What was their name?”
She shrugs. “He had to go on, but said that he’d check back in on you and settle your tab.”
You sigh. Ahhh, a neighbor. What a relief. But how could that be? You are far from home. Who would you know also traveling on that road? What are the chances a neighbor would pass by? You rack your mind as to who it could be. People only have a small number of neighbors in the world.
You’ve heard somewhere in life about the work of the British evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. It was in some newspaper or science journal you picked up somewhere. About how there is a correlation between the size of a primate’s brain and the size of a primate’s social network. Inside that network—or tribe, one might say—the monkey or ape will watch out for its fellow monkeys or apes, demonstrating benevolence and cooperation. But outside that tribe, the primate will not. Indeed, it’ll see members even of its own species as threats.
Dunbar thinks that based on the size of the human brain, our social networks would naturally average around 150 people. And he has a lot of examples from human history to back that number up: The size of hunter-gatherer communities tend to around 150. The ancient remains of Neolithic villages in the Middle East—around 150. The size of a military unit during the Roman Empire. The Doomsday Book recording the population of towns in Medieval England. Even the Christmas card list of the modern British family. All suggest that humans have tended to cluster in groups of about 150 people.
So for someone to have stopped and become so personally involved in your situation, it must have been someone withing your “150.” But who could it have been? You are running through lists of possibilities in your mind when there is a rattling noise outside and a car with a tail pipe in need of repair pulls loudly into the parking lot. The woman moves to open the blinds and you turn to look out the window. You spot an old jalopy plastered with bumper stickers from the last election that make you cringe.
“Oh, here he is now,” she says.
“Who?” you reply.
“The guy who brought you here. Carried you from the back seat of his vehicle.”
He steps out of the car, but you have no idea who this is. Do you have amnesia as well?
“That is not one of my neighbors,” you say.
“Really?” the woman who runs the inn asks. “Hmm. Is neighbor a noun or a verb? Is it someone you live near…or someone who draws near when you need them? Is neighbor something you have or something you do?”
Everything about this man makes your hair stand on end. Listen as he greets the receptionist outside in the hall. By the way he talks, you can tell there is no way he is from back home. The innkeeper turns to you and says, “I imagine you’ll want to speak with him.”
Your head begins to ache in a different sort of way. Yes. But maybe no. He looks, he thinks, he speaks so different from you. What if he is looking for money? For a favor in return. You owe him everything. How can you possibly repay that? How do you feel about your savior being a Samaritan? How is this even possible? Robin Dunbar would say that all of human history—indeed all of evolution—is not set up for these kinds of things to happen!
“I’ll leave so that the two of you can talk,” the innkeeper says.
And I, your narrator, will take that cue to leave you also, so that in your reflection on the scripture of this Sunday, you may continue the conversation also. Think carefully about what you want to say, if anything, to your Good Samaritan… and what you want to ask. Who is he? Why did he stop? And why did he become so personally invested in your mishap?
Evolutionarily-speaking, care and cooperation are not set up to happen outside one’s social network, and yet… What might he have to say that Robin Dunbar would never have to say about what it means to be a neighbor?
Ann M. Garrido
Ann M. Garrido
Ann Garrido is associate professor of homiletics at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO. While her first passion is teaching, Garrido has also served the school in a number of administrative roles including (at varying points in time) as Director of the Doctorate of Ministry in Preaching, Director of MAPS Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Director of Field Education, Director of Distance Learning, and Director of the Aquinas Ministry Integration Project. Most recently, Garrido served as the Marten Fellow in Preaching at the University of Notre Dame.
Garrido preaches each month for the Dominican website Word.op.org and is the author of numerous books, including the award-winning Redeeming Administration (Ave Maria Press, 2013) and Redeeming Conflict (Ave Maria Press, 2016). Her recent book Let’s Talk about Truth (Ave Maria Press, 2020) took second place in the professional ministry category for the Catholic Media Association. She has visited all 50 states and 20 countries, having spoken in over 250 diocesan, university, parish, health care, educational, and business settings.
In 2013, Garrido affiliated with the Triad Consulting Group, a global corporate education and communications firm founded by two members of the Harvard Negotiation Project. She now splits her time between her office in St. Louis, MO and her apartment in Atlanta, GA where she resides with her very understanding husband. Their ukulele-toting son makes appearances during winter and summer breaks.
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