One spring morning, as I was leaving the parish hall where I had taken the kids to Sunday school, a young homeless man met me at the door. He was hungry, and shivering in the cold of the brisk morning air. He suffered from Tourettes Syndrome, and his speech was broken by fits, and uncontrollable interjections. He asked for some money to eat, said that he was between jobs, and was on his way to another state, where he would meet up with some family. He seemed very concerned that I understand he wasn’t simply looking for money, but just needed help. I gave him something for breakfast, directions to a place within walking distance to to get a good hot meal, and told him to meet me after church so that we could figure out what to do next.
Our Pastor informed me that our community had an agreement with a local hotel, and that the man could get a night’s lodging, a chance to clean up, and some rest. I felt a conflicting sense of relief when I found him where we agreed to meet later that morning. I was glad to know that he trusted enough in me to return after his breakfast, but I was very uncertain that what I had to offer would be sufficient to meet his needs. I drove him to the hotel, and he was grateful for the help. I never saw him again, but he left an indelible impression on me.
Are we our brother’s keeper? It seems that I couldn’t be more directly confronted with this question than I was on that morning. In the world of today, this question is more relevant than ever, and as is usually the case with matters of any real importance, the answer is far more complex than the question. Ideally, our government and social structures can provide the same level of care and support that we as individuals would give when we personally encounter those who need us. The truest measure of a great society is how the institutions of that society treat their weakest members, and those who lie beyond it’s bounds.
It’s perhaps too simple a statement to say that we’re all brothers and sisters, deserving of the care that each of us would provide our own families. The tragic fact is that this world of humanity is, and always has been, too fractured to allow us all to see each other as the human beings that we are. At our best though, we are able to set our prejudices and preferences aside so that we can care for one another, and it is these examples of selfless care that our world still celebrates. Our human race is at once perilously inept, and at the same time exquisitely sensitive to the needs of those who are the most deprived.
We’re called to care for our sisters and brothers around the world in the myriad of different circumstances that we as humans exist. We ought not to treat one another as faceless nations or monolithic organizations, but rather as the common groups of humanity that we are. To deny this humanity is to deny that we should keep one another. I believe that we as individuals, nations, and as groups of any size in between are ultimately capable of compassion and care for those with whom we do not identify. This is a calling which we all should heed.
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