Out of curiosity I went one night to a Racists Anonymous meeting. We were a small group of many colors who had arrived there from different routes. One had been sensitized to racism by connections with LGBT people and issues; another by discovering his unconscious prejudice against the South and southern people only after he happened to move there. Being aware of what prejudice feels like and does to one group that is discriminated against can tender one’s heart to how other groups are treated and to one’s own participation in that system of discrimination.
I think attending such a group could help me live a more compassionate life, a call to which is a clear part of Jesus’ message. He spent time with, touched, and told stories of persons who were outsiders in his day—lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, women. Our tendency is to see a particular person and make judgments about that person based on assumptions and fixed ideas about a whole group of people. Sometimes such notions protect us from foolish mistakes, but other times they close us off from presence and compassion: just what Jesus wants us to know.
True compassion isn’t comfortable. Jesus teaches that we should first take the wooden beam out of our own eye before we take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye. To have compassion is to uncover things in ourselves that we would rather not see, to look within rather than to criticize or blame others. A lot of unraveling of defenses has to take place in order to be present to others and to care about them.
At the Racists Anonymous meeting I felt the vulnerability, self-giving, deep caring, and humility that go with compassion. We weren’t taking care of anybody or fixing anyone. We were trying to listen, learn, and respect. And we were calling on the only One who can gift us with true compassion.
What is my responsibility to my neighbor? And who is my neighbor?
Where are there hard edges in me? If I look at them in God’s light, what will I see and hear?
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19: 14).
For further reflection:
“Now I know that you [Elijah] are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (See I Kings 17: 8-24, the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath).
“Was none of them [the ten lepers] found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (See Luke 17: 11-19).