Friday, February 21, 2014

A Moral about Seeing

The city of Bethlehem.

As we walked through the streets of Bethlehem we talked about getting a cup of coffee. We had just bought some icons and were looking at the face of this city, both ancient and modern. The street was a mixture of vendors, cars, taxis, and travelers. We walked up a hill and as we walked a saw a small child, no more than 8 or 9, pushing a shopping cart up this stone street. He would get over a few stones only to be halted by gravity and his own lack of strength.

We reached the top of the hill and I stopped. They said, “What's up?” I responded, “Did you see that kid?” They said, “No.” I handed my bag to a friend and walked up to the kid. He didn't speak English but I pointed to his cart and asked if he wanted help. He said yes, perhaps thinking I asked “Is this yours?”

I pulled the cart of the hill—it was empty and a light task for a grown man. I motioned to him to follow me. I stopped at the top and I gave him a smile. He stared at me, saying nothing, and I couldn't decipher it as a sign of thanks, disappointment, or anger. It was a strange face. Two of the other guys, my friends who were looking on, gave their hand for a high-five (or fives of some kind) and the kid reciprocated—so he must have been a little happy.

We went on our way to get a cup of coffee. One said, “That was a particularly Christian thing to do.” This was in the shadow of the birth place of our Lord. Another noted, “I didn't even see him.”

The moral is not a tale of my virtue. What I did was minor and most likely of little consequence. What is important is how, even in holy places and in the company of friends, how easy it is to simply not see others. Others who suffer from hunger, injustice, or from simply going on unseen.

It is not merely sin, that is an active form of rebellion that progresses evil in the world. A lack of seeing and, when we see, inaction that stunts the growth of love. My friends did not act because they did not see. I saw, so how could I not act if my conscience has been formed by God—by “observing his decrees” (Dt 4:40) and “walking in his ways” (Ps 128:1)?

Being attentive to the world advances love when we respond as we are able. “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands” (128:2) so “practice justice, love compassion, and be prepared to walk with the Lord your God” (Mic 6:8).