Parable for a Time of Violence

If you’re like me, you’ve read some very disturbing words of late on Facebook.

In response to police killings of black people: fact-finding and getting technical. Apologetics for the police.

In response to grieving families: silence.

In response to marches and demonstrations: dismissiveness. Anger. Accusations of “thuggery” (thug = the new N-word).

There is something weirdly inhuman about these responses.

Something basic and human – a minimal sense of connection and neighborliness – has been shut down. The folks making these comments react with more empathy when they watch someone get killed in a movie. They root for underdogs standing up to power in the Hunger Games or Braveheart, but sneer at Black Lives Matter protests happening in real-time in their cities. They close off compassion.

It reminds me of how something basic and human was shut down in the response of the priest and Levite in Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan. A man was beaten and left half-dead on the side of the road. And instead of responding like normal humans to another person in pain – with at least a wince, with at least a twinge of fellow feeling – they put on stone faces and shored up their hearts. They passed by on the other side of the road.

There were, then, three wounded men in Jesus’s parable. Most obviously, there was the man the robbers beat up. His clothes were taken, his body was broken and bruised, and his sense of safety – gone. But there were also the other two: their bodies remained intact. They were still safe. They got to their destination. But on the inside, they were sick. They hurt their own souls by closing off compassion.

This is the sickness that we white people contract from our society. And we Christians are not at all immune (…as Facebook readily shows).

Jesus tells us what to do. At the end of his story, he commends the Samaritan man who had mercy. The one who acted out of compassion – even if it was not at all what his community expected of him. Jesus asks of us to take costly, countercultural steps to reach out to those whom the robbers of our society exploit and assault.

But even more than that: Jesus himself suffered robbery and violence. His clothes were taken, his body was beaten; he was derided, imprisoned, and killed.

Jesus heals our wounded, closed-off white hearts by entering as God into the dangerous and damned and cast-off spaces of our world. If we can love Jesus as God there – if we can “see the glory of God” in the marred face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6) – then we can learn to love the ones crucified beside him: the ones whom our white colleagues label thieves and rebels and criminals.

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