Violence in America

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July 10, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

July 10, 2016
Luke 10: 25-27
Fr. George Smiga

It has been a bad week. Despite the sincere efforts of many people of good will to build peace and understanding in our country, two black Americans were fatally shot by police—one in Minnesota and one in Louisiana. Then a deranged black sniper killed five white police officers in Dallas. This is not the kind of country we want. We want a country of peace, where our children and our grandchildren can grow without fear, where we can live, and move and express ourselves without danger of harm. But the racism in our country seems to undermine this desire at every turn. Time and time again, we witness people on both sides of the racial divide being struck down by deadly force. There is no simple way to eliminate this scourge of violence that attacks our country. It will take years, perhaps generations, for police officers, the black community, and all of us to find a way to truly live in peace with one another.

But there is one thing that each of us can do today. It may not seem very significant, but it is a beginning. What each of us can do is watch the way we react to racial violence, to track the way our heart moves when we hear of these tragedies among us. For each of our hearts will move either towards judgment or towards compassion. When we move towards judgment we seek to place blame. (And don’t get me wrong. Blame must be placed. People on both sides of the racial divide have to be held accountable for their actions.) But when our focus is only to place blame, that blame hardens us into the groups that racism creates. We say, “Police always overreach in their exercise of power.” Or we say, “All black people are disrespectful of authority.” When we place blame, we end up hardening ourselves into the groups that divide us.

Compassion is different. Compassion seeks to find, even in situations where so much is wrong, a humanity that still unites us. Compassion tries to understand the frustration of the police officers who place their lives daily in danger, often in thankless situations. Compassion tries to understand the fear of black Americans who know that statistics show that, when they are stopped by the police, they are less likely to experience a fair and just outcome.

This choice between judgment and compassion lies at the heart of today’s gospel. The hatred in Jesus’ time between Jews and Samaritans was as real and as divisive as racism in our country. And yet, when the Samaritan sees a Jew in a dire situation, he is moved with compassion, and he stops to help. He could have said, “That is my enemy. He is of no concern to me.” But he does not. Instead of seeing a Jew in the ditch, he sees a neighbor. This parable then, of the Good Samaritan, calls us in times of fear and violence to move towards compassion. Compassion can find reasons to unite us on both sides of the racial divide. With that understanding of what we share in common, we are more able to undermine the violence that racism often generates.

Of course, even if you and I today move our hearts less towards judgment and more to compassion, it will not suddenly bring peace to our country. There are many more hearts that need to be moved. But, it is a beginning. And it will also show us to be disciples of Jesus, who commended the compassion of the Samaritan, and who tells us “Go, and do likewise.”

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