Mrs. Fletcher first cried out these words into her emergency alert device in a 1989 television commercial, and within a few months they echoed from coast to coast, appearing in cool jokes among friends, as T-shirt slogans and in stand-up comedy routines (on-line memes were not yet a thing). The LifeCall company, in whose commercials the helpless Mrs. Fletcher first appeared, registered the words as a trademark in 1992, and the trademark was taken over by the Life Alert company, with the addition of the word “Help” in front, in the year 2002. Since then, the company has continued to use the cry for help with a variety of victims, as market research shows it to be a remarkably effective sales technique. The reason is that, while we may snicker at Mrs. Fletcher’s pathetic whine, every person on the downhill side of 60 (50? 40?) feels one slip away from helplessness.

Actually, trademark royalties should probably go to Jesus, who 2000 years ago told the story of the Good Samaritan:

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

            But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:25-34)

Here was this poor soul, beaten to a pulp, feebly crying out the Hebrew equivalent of “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up,” and the good folk of the believing community, the pastors (“Priests”) and deacons (“Levites”) purposely walked on the other side of the street to avoid him. But a bad dude (“Samaritan,” half-breed outcast) was moved with pity and went out of his way to help him.

In our modern world, we’ve found other ways to cross over to the other side of the street. We know that, if we call 911, police and paramedics will come, and they’ll do the Good Samaritan’s job. We drive by the homeless tent cities in our urban centers and reassure ourselves that there are social workers and helping agencies that are giving them relief and hope. Or we put the hurting people looking for asylum at our border into detention centers, where we trust Border Patrol officers will “bandage their wounds, pouring oil and wine on them.” It’s good we have these professional specialists, but they can’t do it all.

There’s more hurt in our world than there is help. Each one of us has the responsibility — the opportunity — to be the bad dude who shows the good heart — the heart of Jesus.

— Pastor George Van Alstine