A Call to Compassion: A Response to War and Violence
Pentecost 22, Common Lectionary Year C
© 2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones
For four weeks now
we’ve been using the Biblical text that anchors our
children’s worship curriculum,
and today’s text stops with the encouraging words of Jesus
to all who have chosen to be a neighbour to those in need,
that they/we have done it to no less than Christ himself,
and they are welcomed with open arms into the kin-dom of God.
Seen through the lens of today,
it’s good to remember the courageous acts of ordinary people
in times of war and horror;
those ordinary men and women who served in trenches, ships and aircraft;
the land girls, merchant marine, ambulance drivers, nurses;
the shopkeepers and secretaries who also worked in the resistance;
the women raising Jewish babies as their own in occupied Europe;
the Pacific Islanders pushing bamboo canes through the fences of internment camps;
citizens who protested the injustice of the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War 2.
The stories are uncountable, and they are often forgotten,
seemingly too ordinary to be counted.
And yet, Jesus tells us differently, doesn’t he?
For Jesus, the Dream of God comes true because of them,
and today is the day to remember them.
Because we know that there’s a choice, isn’t there?
And so does Jesus.
Although we stopped reading at v. 40, he goes on,
making that choice for – or against – compassion
For he speaks, too, to those on his left.
To them he said,
“You are cursed, for you there is nothing except torment, because
I was hungry and you chose not to give me food,
I was thirsty and you chose not to give me drink,
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
I was naked and you left me like that,
I was imprisoned and you did not visit.”
For them the consequence of their choice is terrifying.
We might simply want to push this forward to some
future day of judgment, but it’s not about that,
it’s about the kin-dom on earth, here and now.
We have a choice now.
The choice for compassion doesn’t happen on a sunny day
when all is fair.
It always happens in the thick of war,
during the economic downturn,
in the wake of natural or human disaster,
or in the smallness of our family lives.
We constantly come up against the choice for compassion,
or its tormented opposite.
Are we going to make the choice for
creating kin-dom communities
of care, loving kindness, attentive humility,
or are we going to create hell on earth?
Do we choose the hard work of feeding the hungry,
and giving drink to the thirsty,
or do we as a society throw away supermarket produce,
salinate our water tables, and frack and mine the living daylights out
Do we choose to welcome the stranger?
Do we stand vigil in the rain around our neighbours’ synagogues and mosques? Do we use our time to gather household goods for refugees?
Or do we allow the rhetoric of hate to hoodwink us into thinking
that a refugee is “illegal” because she daren’t cross at a border stop, because the so-called Safe 3rd country agreement means she will be transported back to the hell she risked her life to escape?
Do we choose to call out the systemic inequities that imprison indigenous and coloured people for crimes that would garner a white person only a slap on the wrist?
Do we give a Tim Horton’s card and clean socks to the homeless guy we meet on the corner near our place of work?
Will we advocate for more social housing, even in our own back yard?
Or will we let our society ignore them because they’re mentally sick, or speak the wrong language?
Will we see the prisoner as our sister, our brother, and be with them, or shall we ignore the systemic racism that incarcerates brown and black and indigenous people for crimes a white person would simply be fined for?
Oh Jesus! Your beautiful words are so hard! So stark!
You ask of us courage we don’t know we have.
So we must remember.
Look at these petals on the ground,
look into the memory banks of our family,
look at the neighbours we have and are,
to remember as if our life depends on it,
remember as if the world’s life depends on it,
the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters,
the ordinary folk and their untold, unheralded,
simple acts of compassion
when they helped a neighbour in need.
God knows we can do this.
We’ve been created capable of compassion,
justice and loving kindness, because we are
creatures made in our Creator’s image.
We’ve also been created with the freedom to choose.
Let our choice be compassion.
Let our choice be care.
Let our choice be courage.
For God’s sake, for Christ’s sake,
and the sake of the world God loves.