America is in Dire Need of Compassionate Hearts

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As America continues to be convulsed by recent killings of police officers in Texas and Michigan and two black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, many people are wondering about what is going on in this country. I will like to offer a spiritual meditation on why I am convinced that what is most needed today in America are people with compassionate hearts, who can rise beyond the fears and anxieties of this present moment. Such people will embrace a new way of seeing relationship, and embody daily practices which will bring about a new sense of community of people who are held together in a bond of love, respect, appreciation, justice and commitment to the highest good of everyone especially those on the margins. This spiritual meditation is based on a biblical parable. The Good Samaritan is a very popular Christian parable whose message has universal application because it is a portrait of the humanistic ideals and values needed to meet the challenges of our times, namely; love, compassion, mercy and a caring attitude towards others especially those who are carrying hidden wounds.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is presented in popular Christian imagination as an invitation to daily practices of compassion which begins with: (i) being touched in our hearts by the sufferings and pains of others and caring for people from the depths of our hearts; (ii) changing any negative attitudes one may have towards people who are different in such a way that we can have an open and accepting attitude towards everyone; (iii) reaching out with our hands to lift people up when they are down, broken, beaten and despairing so that they can live again; (iv) working hard everyday to pull down the structures of injustice through a strong commitment to repairing our broken social nets and healing our fears and anxiety through acts of solidarity which help to build communities of hope and sites of peace in our neighborhoods; (v) stepping into other people’s shoes to feel their pains and to be a voice for the voiceless and a point of light where there are pockets of darkness.

The world can be a better place for everyone if we stretched helping hands toward everyone who need our love. Our hands should bring comfort not death; our hands should not pull gun triggers but rather our hands should pull strings of peace and love in the deepest depths and veins of the human heart. We should not use our hands to hurt people, but to heal and help them. Indeed, our hands should become bruised and wounded, stained and burnt in reaching out to others, protecting them and bringing them comfort.

In the face of so many human tragedies which surround us we must become people of mercy, forgiveness, compassion and peace. We should be touched and moved to positive action in the face of human suffering, betrayals and violence. But above all, we should act in such a way that we do something to help others and heal the world of the many wounds inflicted on people by injustice, racism, discrimination, evil, betrayal, hatred, violence among others.

Jesus told the parable in the Gospel in response to the question asked him by a lawyer, “Who is my neighbor?” However, the question for me is not ‘who is my neighbor?’ It should be ‘who should I become a neighbor to?’; “who needs my love most?” “How best can I use the gift of my head, heart, and hand to touch the pains of others, to heal the wounds of others, to wipe the tears in the eyes of many, and to be to everyone I meet in this journey of life, especially those who are wounded a source of healing, strength, hope and grace? How can I become a healer of wounds?

The story of the Good Samaritan speaks about a man who was a victim of armed robbery on the dangerous highway from Jerusalem to Jericho in the time of Jesus. This man was left for dead. A priest and a Levite came by and passed by the other side of the road without coming to the help of this wounded man. It was a Samaritan who was not even from the same race as the wounded man who came to the man’s help. The Samaritan is said to be good because in the face of this human tragedy he was moved to compassion. He did not only show sympathy, he acted to stop the bleeding, he made sacrifice to bandage the wounds of this man and took him to the inn and paid for his care as one would do to one’s family member. This wounded man was a total stranger, but to this Samaritan he was a brother, a fellow human being who was in need. In the face of this need every other thing including the Samaritan’s business trip had to be suspended to save someone who was left to die.

This story challenges us in America and in the world in many ways especially in our times when our world is displaying signs of brokenness and a crisis of the heart. We are suffering from a collapse of compassion. Like the people in the time of Jesus, we are suffering today because there is a growing distance among nations, races, ethnic groups, social classes, and religions. In the time of Jesus the word ‘neighbor’ referred mainly to people from one’s nation and religion. One can show charity to people outside one’s nation and religion, but it is not an obligation or duty to do so. Love to one’s neighbor was often interpreted in the time of Jesus as applying primarily to one’s own people. But in those days those who will live around you would most likely have been people from your race, nation and religion. But times have changed, we now live in a shared world and must embrace the ideals of universal family, shared friendship and common neighborhood.

Every human being is not simply my neighbor but my family member, my friend and fellow pilgrim. We are all children of one God, we live in a shared world, and we all have a common destiny. We must learn to live together in peace or we could destroy this beautiful world which God has made.

This is a challenge to the world today. The beauty of human diversity has become a burden too heavy for many people to bear. This is why so many people are hiding in their own small worlds of race, nation, ideology, and religion in the false search for security and peace. It seems that we do not want each other anymore and are often afraid of who is coming into our neighborhood, who is coming into our nation…

In the face of violence, anger, hatred and prejudice which poison many minds, hearts and hands, we must all choose the highway that leads to peace, tolerance, acceptance of each other—white or black, gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian, religious or non-religious, liberal or conservative. This is the only way we can find a common ground on which to build one Nation and one world under God. America must walk away from the prison of this cycle of violence smelted in the anvil of injustice and anger. America must become a beacon to the world of a nation of justice built on freedom, equality, equity and respect for the sacredness of every human life.

Like the bruised and wounded man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho in this biblical story, there are so many poor and marginal people in our communities and in many parts of the world who are crying out for help.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho in our times are now our streets here in Chicago which continue to be sites of violence, and bloodletting; the streets of Baton Rouge and Dallas where the blood of innocent citizens and police officers have been shed and the Pulse Night club where our brothers and sisters were met untimely deaths because of the hatred and false religious zealotry and fanaticism of a fellow citizen.

The wounded and bruised of our world are the migrants who are drowning in the Mediterranean, dying in the Sahara desert, in our Mexican borders and in the streets of Baghdad and the killing fields of Aleppo in Syria. How do we feel when we hear of the death of someone anywhere in the world? How do we feel about so many millions of people who are dying of starvation in our world? How do we feel about many people who are homeless, who lack medicare, who are in jail, and family members, neighbors and so called strangers who are living without love, and without anyone caring about them?

I am convinced that the cure of the disease of hatred, racism and violence in our world and especially in America can only begin when people embrace daily practices of accepting people who do not think like they do or look like them; it will be helped if we all developed a merciful and compassionate heart towards others. No society can flourish when some segment of her citizenry are poor and feel powerless and permanently pinned down in the lower rungs of the social ladder.

There is need to fill the minds of people with positive values about community rather than the toxin which many news channels spew out. We need the language of love which can speak to the hurting minds and souls of so many Americans today. It is the kind of education which should form part of the formation of our children. It should become the message going out from our houses of worship; it should be a constant message from our politicians and leaders. It is a message which can actually form a new mindset in people even when they are aggrieved, wounded or mentally troubled: to act in such a way that we do what Abraham Lincoln recommended after the Civil War:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”