This letter was crafted by our pastoral staff in light of all that has happened this week.

This article was edited from the original. Our desire was to quickly provide a Gospel-driven framework for thinking about this social issue and due to this, some of the wording chosen caused some to misunderstand our message.

- - -

We are grieving this week.

We are grieving the loss of two black men–Alton Sterling and Philando Castile–and five police officers–Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith–who were taken from their families and communities. We are grieving the loss that our black community feels right now as these two black men were killed–their loss is our loss. We are grieving the loss that our police community feels right now as the lives of five officers caring for their city were taken–their loss is our loss. Our hearts are heavy as we consider the larger and deeper issues of race and injustice that riddles our history as a nation. Moments like this remind us that racial brokenness is not just in our rearview mirror as a nation but is very much affecting lives today. The key question is: How will we respond?

Our mission is to reflect the hope of Christ so others can do the same. This reflecting happens not just in personal relationships, but in the public sphere as well. You may have noticed that in light of these events, you may fall into one of these categories of postures and actions:

Quick Judgment: In haste, you pronounce motives and/or diagnose the problem.
Safe Silence: You don’t know what to say or do, so you don’t say or do anything at all.
Dismiss Suffering: You minimize the pain people feel and show a lack of empathy.

In the Gospel According to Luke (chapter 10), Jesus is approached by a lawyer who desires eternal life. Jesus tests his knowledge of the law and the lawyer passes the test by saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He got the correct answer on the test, but then his heart was revealed when in the next breath he says, “And who is my neighbor?” to justify perhaps his lack of mercy. Jesus responds by sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In light of the tragedies in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, the question remains: “Who is my neighbor?” This parable from the mouth of Jesus shows us a Gospel-driven posture and Christ-centered actions in light of the three postures and actions above.

Quick Judgment or Complex Compassion

The priest and levite are not the good examples in this story. Despite the offices they held within that community, these men looked at this man and passed by without much thought or consideration. Some of us are tempted to do this when we hear news of this magnitude, in an effort to protect ourselves we judge a situation and pass by, moving on in our lives. We feel justified by declaring the problem to be ‘with them’ and not ‘in us.’

The Samaritan–who according to Jesus’ audience was despicable simply because of his heritage–is seen having compassion. Compassion sometimes comes from the least likely of places and our quick judgments will not only keep us from seeing with eyes of compassion but these judgments will also not allow us to see the good in others. Compassion sees the problems in this world as our problems and refuses to quickly pass by.

Safe Silence or Risky Engagement

Another posture we notice in the priest and levite is that they comfortably distanced themselves from the situation by going “on the other side”. There was an inherent danger in association with this man who was robbed. Perhaps the robbers were not far and they would return. This was a dangerous area, and instead of engaging, they chose safety and silence to save themselves. We can’t afford to be silent about what is happening in the conscience of our society. We ought not to pretend like it will go away if we ignore it.

The Samaritan, knowing the danger woven into this situation, “went to him”. The posture of the one in this story who Jesus would tell the lawyer “go and do likewise” had compassion and engaged the situation at great risk to himself. We are reminded of Jesus’ words previously in Luke:

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:32-36

This Samaritan knew that harm could come to him if he engaged with this desperate man, yet he engaged this man at great cost to his own life. Following Jesus is a risky ordeal and is not safe. As a Christ-follower, when you engage the brokenness of the world, you put yourself in harm’s way for the sake of the vulnerable, the marginalized, the hurting and the broken.

Dismiss Suffering or Own Suffering

Finally, we learn that the priest and levite have an ability in their minds to dismiss someone who is hurting and broken. Jesus does not spend time elaborating on their decision. In relation to the story, their decision was made before they came upon this man. The narrative that ruled their life told them that this man’s suffering was not their problem. This man’s pain was not their concern. Somehow, they developed the skill to dehumanize and minimize other people. God help us if we develop this skill.

The Samaritan, operating from a different narrative, acted differently. He bound his wounds. He put him on his own animal. He journeyed to a place of safety with this man. He made this man’s medical and provisional debts his own. Jesus puts the Samaritan forward as a litmus test for us in evaluating our own heart. The Samaritan does not dismiss suffering but rather takes suffering on himself emotionally, physically, tangibly, relationally, and socially. He comes alongside the hurting and the broken. He could have said, “this man shouldn’t have been in this area at this time” but instead he made the abused man’s suffering his own suffering. He was the true neighbor to this man.

We are grieving, but not as those without hope.

May we learn what it means to reflect the hope of Christ in this moment as our black neighbors express their pain at the injustice they have experienced in overt and systemic ways. May we learn what it means to reflect hope as families in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas mourn their loss. May we reflect hope to the community of our men and women who serve and protect us, who may feel judged and targeted during this time. May we allow God to chisel away our judgment, silence and dismissal. May we be the good neighbor, full of mercy, in a complex and broken world.

- Pastors of Via Church