I read a story yesterday that really bothered me. Specifically, the interpretation one of the congregants of the First Baptist Church in Luverne, Alabama had of Jesus' command to "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31):
It wasn’t just Muslims that posed a threat, she said, but all kinds of immigrants coming into the country.
“Unpapered people,” Sheila said, adding that she had seen them in the county emergency room and they got treated before her. “And then the Americans are not served.”
Love thy neighbor, she said, meant “love thy American neighbor.”
Welcome the stranger, she said, meant the “legal immigrant stranger.”
“The Bible says, ‘If you do this to the least of these, you do it to me,’ ” Sheila said, quoting Jesus. “But the least of these are Americans, not the ones crossing the border.”
I know better than to argue with someone about his or her religious beliefs: no one benefits from such arguments, for the result is hardened hearts on both sides.
Instead, I use this as an opportunity for self-reflection. Are there times when I am like this woman Sheila? Are there people to whom I withhold compassion? Are there times when I convince myself that I am practicing compassion toward someone when I am, in reality, allowing that person to suffer?
I don't want to address those questions because I know what the answers are.
Compassion is not a zero-some game because suffering is not an isolated event. Christ suffers for all of us. The suffering of Muslims is Christ's suffering. The suffering of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is Christ's suffering. The suffering of Americans is Christ's suffering. When anything suffers, it is Christ who suffers.
Life is hard for everyone. We have a choice: we can easy the suffering of others or we can contribute to it. And to ease the suffering of another is to ease my own, and to contribute to another's suffering simply adds to my own.
And perhaps that is what the word salvation means: to ease the suffering of another. And following Christ does not entitle me to ignore the suffering of others, regardless of who they are or what there circumstances may be.
The hard task of conversion is figuring out how we can remove the things that limit our willingness and ability to show compassion.