What did you think when you saw the image above? I have been thinking about how we see things over the last several weeks. Certainly the horrific news of violence and death here in the USA from Orlando, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas have grabbed the local headlines. In the aftermath of those events, questions have been raised about how we the people see things – or don’t see things – or choose to see things.
When I stop to think about it, my last two homilies, in their own way, ask the question how do we see things. The homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan notes that the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan all “see” the man. The first two move away and open up the gap between themselves and the one suffering. The Samaritan, a minority and religiously different from the Jews, draws closer. The Samaritan saw something they didn’t – he saw the man in the ditch as neighbor.
Who is our neighbor? After Orlando, Belgium, Paris, and other western tragedies, the social media world lit up with #PrayforOrlando, #Paris, and the like as a means to draw attention and awareness to the tragedy. Social media from Middle East users joined the response. When similar events happened in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Medina, there was no great #hashtag movements in the West. A commentator from the Middle East wondered if this lack of response revealed that the West thinks western lives matter more. He offered that if the goal of ISIS is to drive a wedge between Sunnis and the west, our lack of response fuels their efforts.
The movement identified as #BlackLivesMatter has stirred no small amount of controversy since its inception. By stressing that black lives matter, are they suggesting that black lives matter more than other lives. Isn’t everyone of value? Why this focus just on black lives? Isn’t there a part that sees the movement, wants to separate ourselves a bit, and we offer, “Yes, black lives matter, because all lives matter.” Yes, all lives matter: black and white, east and west, born and unborn, young and elderly – this is the teaching of our Church.
But I wonder that if in the moment we pull away from movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, it is a moment we risk being priest or Levite and not Samaritan, failing to recognize our neighbors. As it is pointed out, “When you see a house on fire and direct the firefighters to that house, you’re not saying that all the houses in the neighborhood don’t matter, you’re saying this one especially matters because it’s on fire.”
The priest and Levite give the man in the ditch a wide berth, creating even more distance between them, but the Samaritan draws near and become vulnerable in that closeness. It is in the closeness that one is opened to the pain, the misery, and the need. Maybe that is what the priest and Levite really are hoping to avoid? Once the Samaritan has seen the man and drawn close, he displays compassion, tending his wounds, transporting him to the inn, making sure he is taken care of. Seeing is vital, drawing near imperative, yet the final and meaningful gesture is that the Samaritan actually does something about it.
Seeing, drawing near, and having compassion – offer us an example of what it is to be Christ-like, for God in Jesus saw our vulnerability and need, drew near in the Incarnation to embrace us, and in the cross took action by identifying with us to the very end, rising again so that death could no longer dominate us. When we fail to see, draw near, and help those we mistrust or fear or just want to ignore, we risk missing the saving presence of God in our lives and in the world.
And perhaps it simply begins with who we are able to see as our neighbor.