By Cathy Hird
When we think of a strong foundation for relationship, we think of Love. In contrast, spiritual teachers advocate Compassion, the kind of love that understands and forgives, that gives of self for the other. I suspect that all love is strengthened when a good dose of compassion is added.
This reminds me of a story that Jesus told when asked what the most important law was. He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, all your strength and all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself." Luke recorded that the questioner responded, "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus then told the story known as The Good Samaritan. Here is my version of that story.
A man was walking in a narrow alley where a street light had burned out. Muggers jumped out and grabbed him. When he struggled, one of them cut his arm with a knife, and another pushed him to the ground. He hit his head hard. The two cleaned out his pockets and ran off.
A little while later, a minister hurried past this dark part of the alley and was frightened by a sound in the shadows. They couldn't see anything, said a prayer for their own safety in this dangerous district, added a quick "do look after anyone who is a victim of violence, God." They went on their way to a visit a lonely member of their congregation.
A little later, a doctor hurried out of their house toward their car parked nearby. They thought they heard a groan that sounded like a person not an animal, but they couldn't see anything and had an emergency waiting at the hospital. On the way, they decided to call 911 and said someone maybe should check out the alley.
A squad car responded, and the officer drove slowly down the street shining their flashlight into the deep shadows. A call came over the radio about an armed robbery in progress, and the officer flicked on the car's siren and lights, and sped off.
A guy with tattoos all down his arms and wearing a T shirt advertising a heavy metal band watched the police car drive away and continued along the alley. He thought he heard a groan and turned on the app that made his cell phone into a strong flashlight. He saw the man who had been mugged, called 911 with the precise location, then put pressure to stop the bleeding.
When the ambulance came, he rode with them to the hospital, waited while the man was treated and while they figured out family to call. He hung around until family arrived, then slipped away so they did not get a chance to thank him.
After telling the story, Jesus asked, "Which person acted as a neighbour to the man who was mugged? Go, and do likewise."
Of course, the characters in Jesus' version fit his time and place, but I used the structure of his story: some who should help ignored the one who is injured. The one you would not expect to help responded with compassion for the injured person, actions that went beyond immediate assistance.
In his interpretation of the parable, Jesus focussed on those who came upon the injured man. Those who did not respond to the need for help were religious leaders, and the one who stopped was a Samaritan, a group much despised by his community. The listener is challenged to imitate someone they normally avoided. So the story is about compassion that sees common humanity rather than societal norms, caring that risks the self, love that reaches past boundaries.
Sometimes when I look at this story with people, I look at it from the perspective of the injured person: what does it feel like when someone you despise helps you, and is there someone you would not want to rescue you? The easy answer is that if our life depends up it, we would not care. But imagine the touch of someone you dislike intensely. Imagine if you found out that the person who helped just arrived from a country with rampant ebola, or that they have HIV. You might wish for a different "good samaritan."
Human love tends to have boundaries, expectations about what is normal. Compassion sees with eyes of understanding, eyes that look beyond prejudice and social norms. Compassion enables us to reach beyond what is comfortable with a gentle, forgiving, healing touch.
Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.