Have you ever noticed that the classic children’s story The Little Engine That Could bears a remarkable resemblance to The Good Samaritan? There are many recensions in its long history and several layers of morals involved, but the version I read to Judah on Tuesday night speaks volumes to a fundamental matter of the human psyche and the human condition.
The little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain are in need of toys and food, but the delivery train breaks down and can’t quite choo-choo its way over to complete its compassionate mission. Enter the powerful new train, the shiny important train, and the rusty old train, all either too new, too luxurious, or too weary to lend a wheel. But just in time, and quite surprisingly, comes the little blue engine who hauls the missional train and its goods over the mountain to the waiting children.
There’s a reason why The Little Engine That Could resounds in the heart of every child who hears it and every parent who reads it. There’s a reason why it’s a classic: the inborn law of love.
We know — in a way much deeper than much of our knowing — that helping the children on the other side of the mountain is a most worthy endeavor. We know, with an inherent knowledge, that elitism is wrong and empathy is right. And we know, quite fundamentally, that the determination to do what’s right is admirable. Yet we also know, with an alien but equally natural knowledge, that the scorn and neglect of those elitist trains is a common experience in our world and in our hearts.
So we experience the lying law of self, but we still know all too well the pure, golden law of love.
The lawyer who was seeking to justify himself knew this law, too. This is why, at the end of his self-justifying search which culminated with an ethical interrogation at the hands of Jesus of Nazareth, he knew the right answer without needing to be told: “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:25-37).
You might object, “Yes, but he was a Jew, and he grew up with the law.” And Paul would respond, “Yes, we all grow up with the law, in one way or another — it was written in that man’s Torah, but it’s written on every man’s heart” (Romans 2:14-16).
We know that the paths of our lives are strewn with the beaten and bandaged, that such barbarity is not the way it’s meant to be, that uppity people and even uppity trains signify the wrongness of our world, that unsung and unlikely righteousness is both right and remarkable, even that the weak are often used in surprising ways. But most of all, at the root of everything, we know that holy love, in all its degrees and manifestations, is simply meant to be.
So may we love deeply, and love well, and love to the end of our days, so that the world may see and sense what it already knows and feels: the gracious law of love. By God’s grace, I think we can.