In addition to the reflections I shared in this week’s worship video, I now share some excerpts from a sermon preached by Matt Westbrook at Portland Mennonite Church in 2015.
When MLK gave the speech (linked above), it was April 3rd of 1968 and he was in Memphis, Tennessee standing with the city sanitation workers, who had been viciously treated by the city for years with unsafe conditions, discrimination, poor treatment from the white city government leadership, and the recent deaths of two sanitation workers. King chose not to show compassion by proxy, but instead to show mercy–compassion moving the body to action–by standing with the workers in marches and rallies. He made the choice to ignore his fears, emanating from continual treats on his life, and to stand with the suffering sanitation workers as they lay on the side of the road. The day after he delivered this speech, King was killed by an assassin. Compassion in action, mercy, is risky. You know you have loved your neighbors when you both feel the uncomfortableness it generates when you act in the place of the Good Samaritan, and also when you feel the uncomfortableness it generates when you recognize the enemy of yours represented by the Good Samaritan may be quite capable of being a role model in a story by Jesus.
A few other excerpts worth chewing on:
Western, wealthy, yet good-intentioned Christians, removed even from having to travel on Jericho-like roads, tend to prefer to keep their hands clean by personally sending or having their governments send money or pass laws, understanding these actions as creating permanent and lasting positive change. Once the money is given, the conscience is eased because it equates neighborliness with the click of a computer key, the tending of wounds with the wearing of a button, the costly generosity of standing and touching the person in need with the donation to a political campaign.
To be fair, this description doesn’t describe every act of financial generosity or political action–there are certainly exceptions right here in our church. But I believe it does hit a powerful nerve in Western liberal Christian practice. To be even-handed, I could have easily described the approach of a conservative American Christian, who may have seen the wounded man by the roadside and argued that if only the man was armed, he could have properly defended himself, but that sermon is for another day.