Responsible for everything?
"... and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side." Luke 10.31
Do you think he felt a pang of guilt? The man in Jesus' story certainly doesn't win our admiration. Even if there were reasons (of ritual purity) which caused him to hurry on, he still failed in his duty of compassion. And why should we expect more from him than from any of the other residents along the Jerusalem-Jericho corridor? The man's responsibility derives from the fact that he was there, he was a witness, he was in a position to help - and he didn't.
So, what does that mean for us in an era of global connectivity through mass media? We have instant access to breaking news wherever it occurs. That sounds like a privilege. But does that bring the same responsibility for compassion which came upon the man in Jesus' story? If so, have we "passed by on the other side" every time we fail to help that which we have witnessed - even if it is on the other side of the world? A downed airliner in Kerala, the Beirut explosion, victims of climate change on the Pacific islands and of child sex exploitation in the Philippines... can we, should we help them all - because we are witness to their suffering, their need?
Closer to home our consciences have been pricked by racism. Many of us recoiled at the slogan "Black lives matter". Don't all lives matter? And around the time of the slave trade many of our own ancestors were being shipped away in conditions which were often as bad as those endured by African slaves. But that is to miss the point. And the point is that it is not about us. "Black lives matter" is a specific reaction to a specific problem: the conscious and unconscious prejudice that people of non-white ethnicity have had to suffer for too long. Most of the time that suffering is in silence because its manifestation is too subtle. But every now and again it erupts into something more blatant - such as what happened to George Floyd.
Reactions have included "taking a knee" at public events, mostly sports matches. Controversy surrounds the gesture because many trace its origin to Martin Luther King and his fellow activists, kneeling in prayer during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. So unless "taking a knee" involves prayer, some feel it borders on blasphemy - especially when it is accompanied by a clenched fist. An alternative interpretation gives the gesture a more recent origin: in the protest of American Footballer Colin Kaepernick, who sat out the playing of his national anthem before a game in 2016 in protest against racist police brutality. He was later advised that kneeling might be a more respectful way of registering his protest.
Where do we go with all of this? How can we be good neighbours to the world? How can we control our responsibility so that it is manageable? We can start with three "baby steps":
1. We listen - without interruption, self-justification, objection or any other interruption; simply in order to learn.
2. We pray - offering up what we have witnessed to the Lord, commending those in need and asking what he wants us, personally, to do about it.
3. We act - committing to whatever our prayerful enquiries are leading us into, driven by compassion and conviction rather than guilt.