In her July 10 message at the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber retells the story of the Merciful Samaritan. The message is timely, coming as it does on the heels of a week — weeks really — full of violence and tragedy. In her retelling, Bolz-Weber points out something I’ve never really considered: this is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not the Parable of the Bad Robbers. Luke says three times as much about the mercy of the Samaritan than he does about the violence done by the robbers.
Good thing Luke wrote in first century Israel instead of 21st century United States. That kind of happy-headed focus on mercy over evil just would not jive with today’s news gluttony. With that kind of attitude, he would never have his comments liked or retweeted or even shared on Google Plus!
Seriously, you can hardly login before being accosted by videos of attacks — physical and verbal — or by memes touting fatalistic ideology. Naturally, each one of those forwards includes an introductory comment such as “I can’t believe this,” “This is horrifying!” or some other statement of outrage.
But really: what good does that do? When we share such negativity, aren’t we just giving evil a larger audience? I actually think we mean well (bless our hearts) longing to bring attention to injustice. But when does this behavior slip from conscientious awareness to voyeuristic obsession?
In her sermon, Bolz-Weber recalled the op-ed piece Stephen Jay Gould published in the New York Times shortly after the attacks of 9/11. In it, Gould contends that deeds of kindness outnumber acts of evil 10,000 to one. The problem, Gould says, is that goodness is usually carried out quietly and on a small scale, while malevolence deliberately draws attention to itself. Thus he says, “We have a duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honor the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses, when an unprecedented act of evil so threatens to distort our perception of ordinary human behavior.”
I think Gould is right, absolutely; but I also don’t want to be clueless. I want to be cognizant of injustice and infuriated by cruelty. So what’s the answer?
First, I think it is important to recognize the pain; to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Never forget that until all the crooked ways are made straight, there is still work to be done.
Then remember: the story of God’s Kingdom is the story of mercy, not violence. Silent, little unpretentious acts of mercy are going on all around us, pricking the darkness of these difficult days with the light of God’s marvelous grace.
That’s Truth. And you can tweet that.