“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him” (Exodus 23:4-5).
I lost my cell phone yesterday. I didn’t even own a cell phone two years ago, but already the nefarious gadget has made itself indispensable.
The only thing to do was to retrace my steps: house, backyard, garage, Home Depot, Tech-One Motors, and Emma’s house. I ranked these in order of probability and headed to the auto repair shop, where I may well have tossed it on the seat of my husband’s Taurus while turning the ignition key while he was fiddled with the jumper cables—or rested it on the counter inside the shop while discussing with the mechanic my delinquent routine maintenance habits for the Mazda. Alas, it was not there.
I remembered having it at Home Depot, but it’s possible I put it on some surface at the self-checkout terminal. The lady manning that station would remember me because we had an unusual encounter. … But, alas, she had not come across it, nor had it been brought to the customer service desk. A young woman in an orange apron hazarded tentatively, “Maybe someone will turn it in. There are still a few nice people in the world.”
It was at that point that I remembered the Old Testament ox and donkey law. It had often struck me because of its oddness. Here was a statute not forbidding the commission of a wrong action, but forbidding the withholding of a right action! This passage from Exodus is God’s reply to Cain’s snarky, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.”
I prayed for the return of my cell phone. I hoped that whoever came across it was a person of traditional Old Testament morality. In other words, I was not only wishing for a person who does not steal, but for someone a notch higher in quality—a person who goes out of his way to stop and help the victim on the road to Jericho, even though he has no skin in the game.
What a radical demand God makes of us. It is not enough to refrain from retaliating against “one who hates you”; we must go beyond that minimal morality and all the way to tenderhearted love.
Nevertheless, so as not to leave you in suspense, I found the phone in the grass near the spot where I gave Emma a hug.