The deaf community at the midsize American church was struggling. Two of their most faithful members had died. Their longtime interpreter was retiring, and the church was changing pastors.
Recently, after I had a terse interaction with my oldest son, my wife brought me aside and said, “I think you were a little hard on him. You really swelled up and charged into the situation with a lot of force.” It wasn’t that my son didn’t need to be corrected (he did), but the way I dealt with him didn’t express the gentleness my son needed.
Leprosy was one of the most feared diseases in Jesus’ day. It sentenced a person who was afflicted with it to an isolated and lonely existence. Jewish ceremonial laws forbid people from having physical contact with lepers. It required those with the disease to live “outside the camp,” isolated from their family and neighbors (Leviticus 14:2-3). If lepers were to venture out into the general public, they were to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that people would know to keep their distance (Leviticus 13:45-46).
In the midst of the rain and cold of an icy winter in 2014, more than 800 illegal shack-dwelling families were evicted from their homes along the southwest coast of South Africa. Although the eviction followed a high court order to prevent further land invasions and had come after many years of wrangling between land owners and the city council, the timing and the method of the eviction caused a public outcry. There appeared to be a lack of compassion shown by the leaders involved.
In the early 1990s, the South African Broadcasting Corporation concluded its official programming at midnight and then played music through the night. Upon hearing songs with a Christian message being played, a man discovered that a young woman was selecting the overnight music, so he and his church provided her with a vast collection of spiritually-themed songs. Thus, Christ-centered music was played overnight on the three national television stations for years. By her actions, one seemingly insignificant woman made a big difference in the lives of many listeners.
In Mumbai, India, a boy named Lakhan lives with his elderly grandmother, Sakubai. Lakhan has cerebral palsy and is deaf. With no home or family to help care for him and Sakubai, they slept on the pavement behind a small bus stop. A published photo shows 9-year-old Lakhan tied to a pole—the only way his grandmother could ensure his safety when she went out to search for work. Sakubai explained her drastic action: “[Lakhan] is deaf, so he would not be able to hear the traffic coming. If he ran onto the road, he’d get killed.” Thankfully, a group that works with special-needs children heard the story, secured a room where both grandson and grandmother could live, and helped the grandmother obtain a job.
As I stood deep in the bush of rural Uganda watching a rig I’d contracted to drill a well for 700 impoverished villagers, an elderly man approached me. He grasped my hands and in broken English said, “If you could open my heart and view inside, you would see happiness on top of happiness on top of happiness for this water God has provided.”
Commotio cordis, which normally leads to cardiac arrest, is caused by an abrupt and blunt hit to the chest. Often it occurs as an object strikes an individual near the heart during the “window of vulnerability”—a 10- to 30-millisecond moment between heartbeats. The medical condition, usually experienced by boys and young men as they play sports, often results in death.
In discussing the premise of the movie The Amazing Spider-Man, director Marc Webb writes, “This is the stuff of classic tragedy. It’s about trying to do good, and by virtue of trying to do good, bad things happen. It’s what [the mythical Greek king] Oedipus does—he goes out and tries to save the city, and he ends up sleeping with his mother.” Webb laughs. “His efforts are noble! But the irony of it is that he causes damage by trying to do good. That is, to me, the most resonant thing of tragedy. Spider-Man is saving people and the world, but it’s at his own expense.”
In his book Simply Jesus, theologian N. T. Wright writes, “When God does big things, the little people get drawn in too.” One of my favorite examples of this is found in the book of Matthew.
In 2014, a pod of pilot whales was found floundering in perilously shallow water off the shore of Florida in the US. Forty or fifty short-finned whales remained close to a narrow shoreline—choosing not to swim out to the deeper waters, where they would be safe. Several of the blackfish were ill, which caused conservationists to worry. Pilot whales are intensely loyal creatures, and when one in their group is sick or in jeopardy, the rest of the pod simply will not leave. They form a circle and stay close together.
An episode of the BBC show Call the Midwife, set years ago in London, tells the story of a mother who reluctantly prepared to have her unborn baby adopted as soon as she was born. She did so because the child hadn’t been fathered by her husband. And it was likely to be obvious, for the skin color of the baby’s biological father was black while the woman and her husband were white.
Jean Vanier was an accomplished naval officer who had recently completed a PhD, and whose family oozed with prestige (his father had been the Governor General of Canada). Yet, living in the small French village of Trosly-Breuil, Vanier was alone and downhearted. His pastor encouraged him to invite two disabled men to live with him, and L’Arche (communities where disabled and those who Vanier calls “temporarily-abled” share friendship and life together) was born. Fifty years later, L’Arche communities exist around the world.
One day during class, Adrionna Harris noticed something disturbing—one of her young classmates cutting himself with a small razor. As she perceived it to be a grave situation, she did what she thought was the right thing to do—stepped in, took the razor from him, and threw it away. But instead of receiving praise, her compassionate act earned her a 10-day suspension. Asked if she would do it again, Adrionna replied: “Even if I got in trouble, it didn’t matter because I was helping him . . . I would do it again even if I got suspended.”
Ihave a friend who has wounds so deep that she resists the compassionate love of others. Caring people have reached out to my friend. They would give their lives for her (in fact, in many ways they’ve done precisely that). Yet she runs from their love. She fears being loved. The love offered to her is so strong, and her heart so weak, that it terrifies her. It seems safer just to stay in her cocoon.