We Should Respond to This Week's Tragedies With Less Distrust, More Mercy

With all the horrors in the news this week in Louisiana, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Texas, the story of the Good Samaritan — which is this week’s standard Gospel reading — is particularly timely today for us to not just hear, but really take to heart. In times like these, we need to be even more mindful to reach out to those who may not be of our clan, our tribe, our race, our nationality. We need to look to show compassion before we ascribe blame or judgment. We need to cross to the other side of the street and be instruments of healing.

There’s a story I’ve told numerous times and written about three or four times in the past 33 years about a youngish black “bum” who haunted a bus stop at DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C., during my freshman and sophomore years of college. Rather than recount the whole story again, I will specifically ask you to follow this link to read it. It’s well worth the short reading time not because of any great insight or writing of mine, but because the incidents described are so perfectly fitted to the Samaritan story.

But, longer story made short, I learned a lesson — or at least was certain I was supposed to learn a lesson, although in three decades I still haven’t been able to define the lesson in ways fully worthy of the closing incident I described — about how generosity and kindness can come from the unlikeliest of sources. (Likewise, with a slightly different emphasis, we should heed and try to emulate the story of the poor widow in Luke 21 who donated to the offering plate all that she had.)

Most of us do not know the pain and fear of people from the inner city who lose friends and loved ones to violence far too frequently, but who distrust the police who are supposed to be safe to protect them. Most of us do not know the stress and fear that police officers may feel when working among distrustful populations. Most of us do not know exactly what happened in controversial incidents until exhaustive investigations are conducted — which is good reason not to rush to judgment, for either “side” of the dispute or the tragedy involved.

But we do know this: We know that God commands us to mercy. As today’s lesson from Deuteronomy instructs us, the ability to follow that commandment should always be readily at hand: “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”

Yes, we may not need to cross the sea to show mercy and love; we may merely need to cross the street. So, as Jesus commanded after telling the Samaritan’s story, we should indeed “Go and do likewise.”