My latest for Sojourners. A big thanks to my brother in law Ben for his keen editing eye on this piece. Be sure to check out his site emergingdisciple.com
Residents wait in line to receive food aid distributed in the Yarmouk refugee camp on Jan. 31. UNRWA via Getty Images
Last week amid the closing of the Olympics, the national debt, and the latest pop culture ‘news,’ this photo was published that encapsulates the volume of pain and suffering that is happening in Syria. For years, the conflict in Syria has gone through its ebbs and flows; it has been in and out of the media’s attention. Even though thousands of people have been displaced and families have been forced to eat animal feed, this is not worthy for American front-page news. Sadly, travesties around the world, or even in our backyard, are categorized as “out of sight, out of mind.” Too often we are consumed by other things than those outside of our limited purview.
When I saw the photo of the suffering of the Syrians, I was shocked; I was shocked that so many people were in line to get food, shocked that despite their best efforts there is not enough food to go around. I felt sad for the people who, by no fault of their own, live in a country that is being ravaged by war, violence, greed, and power struggles. I felt embarrassed for all of the times I whined and complained about my own “problems.” All of them collectively wouldn’t even begin to compare to what people are facing in Syria at this very moment. I wanted to find a way to do something, to raise my voice for them … anything.
Where is the outcry on their behalf? Where are those standing up for the widows and the orphans? Why are the collective prayers and laments of the church not being raised for those facing distress and peril? Why are too many churches debating who is in and who is out, or who is right or who is wrong, rather than focusing on issues such as this? These questions and many more began to swirl in my head.
This is not how the world is supposed to be. People can be so hateful and power hungry that it leaves innocent people in the dust.
What happened to that “very good” world that is described in Genesis? Will it ever be the idyllic place we all hope and yearn for?
In Matthew 25 we find these prophetic words of Jesus; “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Common English Bible 2012).
The church has an obligation to the world. The church has an obligation to other people. Although we have enough problems in this country, it does not negate our duty to share the love of Christ to all people. Becoming a Christian expands our horizon, our world, our collective outlook. No longer are we to be self-centered; rather, by the ministry and indwelling of Christ, we have become new creations of selflessness.
I’m not saying that you have to wear sackcloth and throw ashes on your head; or, sell all your possessions and give it to the people of Syria. However, in our moments of selfishness, let’s remember those who struggle for day-to-day basics. Remember those who hunger for the food that we discard every day. Remember that we are not immune to the cries of the hurting and the forgotten in this world.
All people no matter their race, age, hair color, etc., are all created in the same image of God as you and I. Since all people are created in that image, we should not have predetermined boundaries on our love and grace. Looking at the world and all of its many issues and problems can be overwhelming, but we first and foremost must remember the call to be the hands and feet of God in the world.
When we think we don’t have enough, look at the picture.
When our children complain about dinner, show them the picture.
When the church is debating what to cut from the budget, look at the picture.
When more focus is on getting people in the door than helping those outside it, look at the picture.
As we journey into Lent, the season of emptying ourselves out to receive the Holy Spirit and journey with Jesus toward the cross in Jerusalem, may we find ways to help the poor and outcast.
May this picture be a reminder that just because we are not affected by it, people are suffering every day.
Come Holy Spirit come.