COLUMN: Not bothering enough to love
Published 6:23 pm Sunday, November 12, 2023
If you are anything like me, your newsfeed has been clogged with horror. Not just bad – horrific. Bloodshed in Gaza, Israel, and Ukraine. Mass shootings in Maine, Tampa, Atlanta, Chicago. Rage on every cable channel, Facebook group, and newspaper opinion page. Everywhere we look, we see ample evidence of human beings showing how horrible we can be to one another.
Recently, I noticed that I respond to such news accounts with a greater and greater degree of detachment. What can I do, after all, to stop mass shootings? I can’t stop a Hamas rocket or an Israeli artillery round. And our ongoing political toxicity seems to be out of anyone’s control. Often, it seems all I can do is say, “Oh, well!” Anything more seems futile, and caring hurts too much.
Then I turned to the story of the Good Samaritan. If the title isn’t familiar, it was a story Jesus told in Luke 10. Someone was testing him, trying to figure out who they had to care about and who they could get away with ignoring, or even hating. The story begins with a man getting waylaid, beaten up, robbed, and left for dead. It ends with another person who belonged to a suspect racial and religious minority helping the injured man, saving his life. But in between, two other people, good religious people, saw the hurt man – but walked right past. Had it been left solely up to them, the man would have bled out in the ditch between Jericho and Jerusalem. Each of these good, upstanding, religious folks, Jesus said, saw the hurt man and “passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:31)
James Keenan, a Jesuit priest and theologian, looks at this parable in his recent book on Christian ethics and suggests, “Sin is the failure to bother to love.” I think he has a point. When I flip past the news of the deaths of Palestinian children and Israeli settlers without a thought, I am that priest passing by on the other side. When I hear of yet another mass shooting and offer thoughts and prayers, but consider that the limit of what can be done, I am that Levite refusing to look at the man in the ditch. When I accept that political division makes us enemies – or, worse, if I let myself hate someone who sees things differently than I do – well, I think Father Keenan is right: that is sin, because instead of loving someone else made in the image of God, I hate them or ignore them.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan invites us to do our part to show mercy to those who need it and heal the hurts of our world however we can, but the greatest sin isn’t when we try to act and fail. It’s when we don’t even bother to love, to care. It’s when we pass right on by.
Rev. Dr. J. Adam Tyler is the senior pastor for Farmville Baptist Church, and he can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.