(How) To Be the Ones Who Show Compassion
In 1981 I was living in Birmingham UK.
I was a student teacher, in an inner city school.
White was a minority colour,
English, though common, was most often the second or third language.
The school was in the middle of the neighbourhood that, just the year before,
had been pipe-bombed, car-fired, and riven with race riots,
I had stayed late in my classroom preparing for the next day’s work,
and by the time I left the building to head to the bus stop, there was almost no light left in the grey, cloudy, November sky.
I was a field hockey player, and fit,
but that suddenly didn’t feel enough as I
saw three tall black teenagers rounding the corner,
speaking with the unmistakable mixed accent of Birmingham-raised children
of Afro-Caribbean Islanders.
They walked purposely right up to me,
and one of them said, “Miss, you stupid?!”
I won’t mimic… but he, and his buddies carried on,
crowding around me, saying,
“You should not be here, white flag in this neighbourhood!
Listen, we’re going to stick by you until your bus comes, so trouble doesn’t find you.”
I spent with them 15 of the most profound moments of my life and faith,
being schooled and challenged in my own prejudices
by the sassy caring of three Caribbean Samaritans,
before the bus came, and they went on their way.
Who is my neighbour?
Since then, I’ve never been able to read Jesus’ parable
without realizing that it is both so simple,
and yet very layered.
That is so typical of Jesus’ parabolic wizardry,
throwing out something plain as
the white nose on my face, yet deep enough to trouble my comfort every time I’ve read it in the 40 years since.
John Dominic Crossan has it right I believe.
He calls this short story by Jesus a
“parable of challenge.”
Jesus, at his Dream of God best,
constructs this tale so that it slips easily, incisively,
past our ears and our defences,
until it subverts our cultural norms of civility and good behaviour and fairness
with the radical justice, the mishpat of God;
“God’s persistent regard for,
and action on behalf of those for whom the world’s justice is systematically denied.”
We know how the story goes….
an ordinary you/me type person
who falls on hard times,
through no fault of their own,
and three people who could help;
two, like you or me, who don’t,
and a third one who does,
and that one is a pariah,
Who is my neighbour?
If we’re not squirming, to paraphrase Jesus,
then we’re not listening.
Because he’s pointing out the number of times
when, like the priest who walks by,
we’re too busy protecting purity, or morality, or our notions of fairness.
We dare not risk becoming unclean by association
with whoever is down in that ditch needing help.
Likewise, Jesus points the mirror at us,
so we can see how many times,
like the Levite, concerned for our tribe,
we limit our help only to those like us,
the deserving, the Christian, the white, the local.
And as we squirm, the coup de grace;
he turns the mirror one more time,
and we look, confused,
unable to identify ourselves with the Samaritan,
a religious outsider, a foreigner,
the butt of all racist or religious so-called jokes.
We don’t identify with the tall, black teenager who waits with me for the bus,
the hijab-wearing day-care worker who cuddles to calm my grandchild,
the brown poppy-wearing bus driver whose grandfather was killed in a war that saved my skin…until Jesus asks us:
“Who is neighbour to the one in need?”
And like the scholar, we know the answer!
We know the answer, because we are children of God’s good earth.
We are made in the image of a compassionate God,
it is part of our DNA as humans,
as followers of the Way of God’s Dream,
whether our path is Christian,
or Jewish, or Samaritan,
or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Humanist.
And so it comes naturally, if reluctantly, off our tongue,
“The ones who showed compassion.”
So challengingly, subversively simple!
We help those who share the same blood as us,
as creatures of the earth.
We help anyone who is in the ditch.
Anyone, any creature, who has been robbed of life, dignity, hope, possibility
by the unjust circumstance of the world
“…and the creed and colour and the name don’t matter…”
The person who doesn’t have a home,
doesn’t matter why
The mother whose children are in danger,
doesn’t matter why,
The creatures whose habitats are being eroded,
doesn’t matter why.
Anyone in the ditch.
And we have no excuse to walk on by!
Not our flood, our temporary internal displacement within our own building,
not our concerns for our space,
and the budget implications of this inconvenience,
the call of God is clear!
So, because some of you have asked,
let me give you some detail about two major foci
for our Samaritan caring between now and the end of the year.
The first is to partner with the work of Calling All Angels.
You know that winter has come early and hard to our city,
and there are homeless people who need
a hot meal, or some home baking.
We’re making some of those meals in our kitchen. Sign up to help.
The next baking session is this Tuesday, and we’ll plan others if you sign up.
They also need hand warmers, dry socks, shampoo, soap, a comb, a hand- written note.
Take one of the cards that are here at the chancel steps, and make compassion packs with your family, or your apartment neighbours.
If you work downtown, buy $2 Tim Horton cards, and hand those to the panhandlers, and the guys who work the traffic stops.
You get to be God’s neighbour to the ones in need.
The second is our Advent Project, which started early when we held our “What’s Next?” Refugee Response evening last Tuesday.
We are partnering through Advent and into the New Year
with the Welcome Collective,
who work to help newly arrived refugee claimants and asylum seekers to set up their most basic human needs.
Things like getting kitchen staples like salt, pepper, spices, toiletries…
Take a bubble, take more, and bring the item back here, and we’ll collect them at the back of the Sanctuary on Sunday mornings from now til Christmas.
Why are we doing this?
Because we are called.
We are called to be neighbour
to our earth siblings in need.
We are called to be “The Ones who show compassion.”
That’s why. That’s who we are.
Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones
November 17, 2019