After the attack on Dallas police officers in which five died, Mayor Mike Rawlings visited Police Headquarters in that city and said to the gathered reporters: “We’re all human here, and I think that people feel each other’s pain. And that’s what makes it great, that’s what makes you hopeful that we can do this, that we can move from senselessness, absurdity that’s like a Camus novel, to something that has redemption and hope in it. And that’s ultimately what we need to do.” Encouraging words at the end of discouraging, agonizing events.
But how do we do it? How do we move from, as Rawlings put it, senselessness and absurdity to redemption and hope? How do we ensure that we continue to feel each other’s pain?
“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 … But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.’”
In this beloved parable, we remember that although Jesus does not identify the man going down to Jericho, his audience probably assumed that he was a Jewish person. And we recall that the Samaritans were an inferior mixed race in the Jewish mind. They were thought to be less than human.
It is easy to get carried away in the frenzy as we move through these unsettling times. It is easy to wonder how to react, what we can do to help bring more peace into the world. But we remember, too, Elijah’s story:
“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
And God continues to speak to us through scriptures, through the story of the Good Samaritan that challenges us to love those who are different from us, those whom culture and society would depict as our enemies. God speaks to us through nature, as well:
Charles Seabrook recently reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the brown-headed cowbird:
“No other bird, perhaps, is loathed by birders as much as the brown-headed cowbird. That’s because it is a ‘brood parasite,’ which lays its eggs in the nests of other songbird species. In effect, cowbirds, which build no nest of their own, notoriously trick other birds into raising cowbird babies. Let‘s say that a female cardinal (a favorite cowbird target) leaves her nest just for a few minutes — but long enough for a female cowbird to sneak into the nest, quickly lay her egg next to the cardinal’s eggs, and then disappear. When the mother cardinal returns, she regards the cowbird egg as her own.
“She then will incubate the cowbird egg along with her own eggs. The cowbird, though, has a shorter incubation period than most other songbirds and likely will hatch first. The baby cowbird will grow large very quickly. Nevertheless, the cardinal parents will regard it as one of their own.
“The cardinals then will feed their foster baby along with their own babies. But the cowbird’s bigger size will allow it to monopolize the food, leaving the baby cardinals to starve to death.”
Dallas Mayor Rawlings, on the day he spoke to reporters at Police Headquarters, also “stopped to speak with a woman kneeling by one police car and told her, ‘Pray hard, sister.’”
So, yes, prayer first. Just as God continues to reach for us, we continue to reach out to God, praying for peace, for guidance, for unity and love to overcome hatred and divisiveness. So, yes, prayer first. But we also remember what Jesus asked the lawyer who had been questioning him: “ ‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
So, it’s very clear, very simple. We are to “go and do likewise.” Just as God continues to reach out to us, just as the Samaritan reached across societal dictates to help a Jewish person, just as the cardinal parents reach across the species line to nourish a fledging cowbird, we can, we must, do the same.
And the good news is that we can start in our very own lives. Every day, we can choose to look for someone who is different from us — in gender, ethnicity, race, political orientation, sexual orientation — and ask God to help us reach out to that person and show love to him or her. And in the evenings, we can thank God for the love we shared.
We continually celebrate our assurance that God unfailingly reaches out for us, that God will never abandon us. And as we reach out to each other, to those who are like us and to those who are unlike us, we can rejoice as we walk arm in arm on the path of redemption and hope.