This coming Sunday, our None are Excluded series continues with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I have recently come across this reflection on the well-known story by American pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, written in July 2016, in the wake of a mass shooting in Orlando. If you can bear it, use this link to see the litany of place names that have come since then.
A man was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho….when a group of robbers, or terrorists, or racist cops attacked him by a suicide bomb ….or an AR-15 assault riffle…. or by shooting him as he lay on the ground – and they left the man for dead; outside the airport… or on the floor of the gay night club,… or in his car next to his girlfriend, …or along the route of the protest march.
And the entire assault was captured on a bystander’s cell phone and immediately uploaded to Facebook within seconds.
A Lutheran Pastor walks by and is so absorbed in watching the video of the attack and formulating her perfectly articulated outrage on Twitter that she doesn’t even see the beaten man that is literally right next to her. She wants so badly to be the “good ally” that she misses an opportunity to show compassion to an actual human being right in front of her.
Then a Director of a non-profit walks by and is too burdened by the way in which he himself is complicit in the availability of the weapon, or the bad conditions of the road, or the rigged economic system that contributed to the man traveling alone on an unsafe road, that he chooses to not even look up from his Poetry Almanac app. And he too missed the chance to show mercy.
Now, by the time these two have passed the man, hundreds of thousands of people have left horrible comments on the video of his assault either in turn expressing racist thoughts about why it was his own fault, or rants about the 2nd amendment. And then a minute later we are all posting comments about how this is all about robbers when suddenly Salon.com has re-posted the FB video of the assault along with an article titled “Why Everything You Think about Robbers is Wrong” and then 1 minute later Salon.com posts the FB video of the assault along with an article titled “The Problem with Commenters”.
So now, by the time the Samaritan comes along and sees the man who was robbed and assaulted, gives him water and a cliff bar, dresses his wounds, give him a ride to a hotel, stays the night with him to make sure he is ok, and pays the Marriott bill in full…well by this time, the media has already posted thousands of articles about how often these attacks happen and there is a 24 hour long news cycle that shows the video of his assault over and over and HuffPo and CNN and Slate have all now told the story of the assault from every angle imaginable. It’s all anyone is talking about so it starts to feel like it’s all there is.
But then you realize – there is absolutely no mention of the Samaritan. They never once mention the kindness. Violence is highlighted and mercy and generosity are ignored because mercy and generosity make bad news.
I’m not sure about anyone else, but this week it started to feel as though our newsfeeds, TVs and radios had been replaced with some sort of an Atrocity-of-the-Day Calendar of terrorist attacks and police shootings and hate crimes.
So I was understandably dreading office hours this week because I just didn’t feel like I had any wisdom. I had nothing insightful or helpful to offer so I was grateful that what I so clearly did not have to offer was (again) offered to me by those who showed up. Meghan was quiet the whole time, as is her way. But when Aram asked what she was thinking she shared what Stepehn Gould wrote in an op-ed soon after the 9-11 terrorist attacks:
“Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ”ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.
We have a duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honour the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses, when an unprecedented act of evil so threatens to distort our perception of ordinary human behaviour”
So, church, I stand here to say that as I was despondent about our atrocity-of-the-day world – and as I was at the same time reading this story of the Good Samaritan over and over there was something that was glaring – a simple thing in this story that made all the difference for me this week. It’s a thing called: Column inches.
Look at this story again.
The entire focus of the story of the Good Samaritan, was not on the violence or the idiocy. The focus of the story was mercy and lovingkindness. The robbers get about a dozen words but the Samaritan gets the rest of the story. Because it is not the parable of the Robbers. Amen? It’s the parable of the Merciful Samaritan. And yet this week I was afraid to look away and see any good because to do so felt perilously close to pretending that the violence wasn’t bad.
But in the story of the Merciful Samaritan, Jesus told the truth about the seriousness of the attack. To be sure, he told the truth about the inadequacy of how the priest and Levite responded. But on none of these things did he dwell. He used most of his canvas for this story painting a picture – not of assault, but of generosity.
Which means there is another option. The choice is not between ignoring the violence and suffering and thus glibly using our privilege to insulate ourselves from this present darkness or focusing exclusively on the violence and suffering and glumly using our access to social media to see nothing but this present darkness.
Evil might have the news cycle. But it does not have the victory. The darkness does not get to have our hearts, it does not get to fill our minds, it does not get to steal our joy. And looking for the love, the light, the kindness in the world around us is not the same as pretending that evil isn’t evil.
As Christians we can sit in the suffering, we can name the evil forces of racism and gun violence, we can confess our own complicity and we can lament and protest. But what we can never do is concede more ground to Satan than he himself has claimed. We will not be deceived into reversing the math and believing that evil has the numbers, because it does not. Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter was 1 man. His act of terrorism and murder and hate had a devastating effect on so many lives and the city of Orlando. But you can not tell me that the evil of one man won when in response millions of people all over the world marched in support and love for those effected. It’s not vapid optimism – it’s just math. What Omar Mateen intended for evil, God used for good.
I will not choose nihilism. I won’t do it. Not while I believe in the love of God – a God who defeated sin, death and the devil. Evil rages but it’s also pathetic. So as an act of defiance tonight, we will surround the names of those who died this week with words of lovingkindness. We will write down every act of kindness and generosity that we can remember happening this week. If Stephen Gould’s math is right, we need 10,000 but the good news is that there is more than that out there. Because this world is not a parable of Robbers. This world is a parable of God’s light which scatters darkness.
So by all means let us name evil for what it is, let’s root out the sin and racism within us, let us fight for justice, but then let us turn the cameras toward the light, lest we become so consumed by the effects of evil that we miss the chance to be kind to a stranger, and we miss the chance to stop and read to our kids and we miss the chance to notice how acts of beauty and kindness out number acts of evil by the thousands, because in so doing we hand evil a bigger victory than it earned when in fact it has already lost. See, in the same 24 hour news cycle that only can speak of evil – babies were born and people feel in love and someone put an old lady’s shopping cart back for her and casseroles were bright to the home-bound and prayers were said and little girls made brand new friends and someone paid for the coffee of the person behind them in line and flowers were brought to the Dallas police department and children made perfectly mis-spelled protest signs and people made up and someone in the coffee shop let me hold their baby because they could tell I needed it and when pastor Reagan’s car broke down in the middle of nowhere during his vacation, someone came along at just the right moment and towed it 126 miles all the way to Denver. And Every second of every day our God arrives unannounced in the merciful and loving kindness of other people and in the midst of single acts of evil I want to be a warrior of that. AMEN.