the value of one

It’s taken me many years and more pain and heartache than any one person should ever have to bear. But I think I have finally come to understand the value of one person, one friendship, one relationship. Over the past year, I can point to so many times when I would not or could not have gone on living had it not been for the intervention of one person.

Often, that intervention occurs in small ways. A glass of cold water. An invitation to lunch. A note of encouragement. Sometimes, it is as simple as an acknowledgement of my existence.

Fair weather friends are abundant and of questionable value. I think of the words of Jesus:

For if you love them which love you, what reward do you have? Can’t even tax collectors do that? And if you greet your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the publicans so?

During the past year, I experienced a catastrophic life crisis. Before the crisis, I had more friends and acquaintances than I could have listed. Now, all but about a dozen have drifted away. It’s quite an awakening to find out that so much of my life was a delusion.

I’ve spent months licking my wounds, and perhaps that’s a necessary part of the process. But I sense that it’s now time to get up and be the kind of person that I think others should be.

It’s almost amusing to see the way people have twisted the teachings of Jesus to come up with a rigid code of behavior entailing countless “Thou shalt nots.” Clearly, Jesus himself had (has) much more interest in the “Thou shalts.”

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In one of the gospel accounts, the lawyer, still not satisfied, presses Jesus further, asking him to define what constitutes being a neighbor. In response to this query, Jesus tells the well-know story of the “Good Samaritan.”

Jesus makes it perfectly clear that love is the trump card.

And love is most clearly realized when it is intentional, active, and directed toward one.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

© panthera2, 2012.

inasmuch

I am a man called Job.
I lost my wealth, my home, my possessions, and even my children.
My pain is unbearable.
Some of my friends at least came to visit me (even if in silence),
But you never came.
     Kýrie, eléison.
     Kýrie, eléison.
I am the woman the vigilantes brought to Jesus.
I admit that I did it. I was unfaithful to my husband, and I am ashamed.
Jesus spoke to the crowd.
Then you picked up a stone and hurled it at me.
     Kýrie, eléison.
     Kýrie, eléison.
I am the guy who, somehow, came to owe you a lot of money.
I asked for patience, but you pressed charges and I ended up in prison.
I don't understand why the bank let you go when you got behind.
     Kýrie, eléison.
     Kýrie, eléison.
I was beaten and left hurting along the side of the road.
Maybe I even deserved the beating. The man who stopped to help didn't ask.
But you didn't even stop.
You just drove by again and again and again.
     Kýrie, eléison.
     Kýrie, eléison.
I was hungry
     and ye gave me no meat.
I was thirsty
     and ye gave me no drink.
I was naked
     and ye clothed me not.
I was sick and in prison (remember that not all prisons have bars)
     and ye visited me not.

     Kýrie, eléison.
     Kýrie, eléison.

Does God exist?
I want to believe.
But the people who follow Jesus won’t let me.

© panthera2, 2012.

passing by on the other side

In large cities like Philadelphia and New York, it’s said that a person in distress should never scream for help. A cry for help is a plea for personal intervention. It’s asking someone passing by to become involved. It’s much better for someone in need to scream ‘Fire!’ Since its main focus is on a structure, a fire is perceived as less intimate, and a stranger is able to respond with less fear of becoming personally involved.

I recently watched Central Station, a movie in which Dora, a retired grade school teacher, makes a living by writing letters for illiterates in a large Rio de Janeiro train station. Dora has long given up any quest to find meaning in life, and doesn’t even bother to mail her customers’ letters.

Then, when one of her customers is struck dead by a truck outside the station, Dora is forced to watch the dead woman’s young son trying to survive alone on the city streets. Feeling a pull to do something, Dora initially sells the boy on the black market. Unable to live with that decision, however, she rescues him and sets out on a long journey to unite the boy with his remaining family in another part of the country. In doing so, Dora abandons her livelihood and the comfort of her home. She sacrifices many days and much of her savings.

I’m also thinking about an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Season 7, Episode 9) in which Detective Goren becomes aware of inmates at a New York state prison being subjected to torture. Realizing that going through normal channels would be slow and ineffective, Goren risks his own career by going undercover without authorization to expose the misconduct. He does get results, but loses his job in the process. Goren does not regret his actions.

At this point it may be worthwhile to bring to the table a story told by Jesus.

And Jesus said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his clothing, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever you spend more, when I come again, I will repay. Which now of these three, do you think, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do likewise.

It’s interesting to note that Dora, Detective Goren, and the Samaritan are not particularly religious. But all three go far out of their way, two of them abandoning comfort and career, to become involved for the sake of someone who is suffering. Not one of them questions whether or not those suffering deserve assistance. They see a need, and they’re compelled by compassion to act.

In my experience, it is those who claim to be followers of this Jesus who are least likely to respond to a cry for help. It is they who are least likely to risk comfort, reputation, career, or their savings to reach out to those who suffer. It is they who are most likely to carefully weigh whether or not a potential recipient is deserving of their love. Too bad.

© panthera2, 2012.