Hearing the Cry for Compassion

 – by Walt Mueller
©1999, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

Editors Note: This article was written two-weeks before the shootings in Littleton, Colorado. Keep those events and the role played in Littleton by those labeled as “misfits” in mind as you read.

Yesterday was a bad day for our 15-year-old daughter Caitlin. Lisa could see it on her face as soon as Caitlin climbed into the car after soccer practice. Through her tears, Caitlin explained that a student at her school had ended his life the night before.

Caitlin didn’t know Chris personally, but she knew who he was. As we listened to Caitlin recount what little she knew about his life, it became increasingly obvious why a young man like Chris might choose the ugliness of self-inflicted death as more attractive than a hopeless life. Eighteen-years-old, Chris had struggled with academics – he was still in 10th grade. He was overweight. Kids picked on him all the time. Caitlin commented on how she would see him walking down the hall between classes – his head always hung low. In the cafeteria she would see him eating alone. Kids say that the day he died, he had been picked on particularly hard. She also knew that his life ended as he hung from the end of a rope.

While Caitlin and her friends had never picked on Chris, I’m sure they were all thinking about what they might do differently if they could somehow rewind the clock back a week or two. Hindsight makes us do that following a tragedy. Maybe they would have talked to Chris in the hall. Perhaps they would have sat with him at lunch. But the ugly reality is that for Chris, and so many other kids, their cries go unheard until after they’ve stopped. By then, it’s too late to give an answer.

Why is it that we fail to hear the cries of the hopeless and hurting “outcasts” coming from so many corners of today’s youth culture? Is it that we’re too busy? Is it that we don’t care? Could it be that we’ve ignored the cries for mercy because getting involved would require us to invest more of ourselves than we’re willing to give?

Jesus addressed this very issue. A “religious” man who saw himself as wholeheartedly devoted to God once tested Jesus with this question: “What do I need to do to get eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question: “What’s written in God’s law? How do you interpret it?” The man answers, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” Jesus affirms the man’s answer telling him, “Do it – keep on doing it – and you’ll live.”

Backed into a corner, the inquisitor knows that he has not loved in this way. Maybe he was just too busy or didn’t care. Maybe he didn’t want to get involved. Looking for a way out, he asks Jesus to define “neighbor,” hoping to prove that not all people (especially those he does not like or have time for) qualify as “neighbors.”

Jesus proceeds to tell a story that most of us have heard over and over again. It’s about a Jewish man who is beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. A religious man (a priest) comes by and rather than stopping to help, he passes by on the other side. The wounded man’s cries for mercy go unanswered. Another religious man (a Levite) comes along, sees the hurting and hopeless traveler, but passes by as well. A third man walks by. He’s a Samaritan – the least likely of the three at that time in history to reach out and help a Jew. Yet, this Samaritan hears the cries, takes pity on the dying man and meets his needs. He painstakingly bandages his wounds. He lifts the man onto his own donkey and walks him to an inn where he can be made comfortable and find rest. And, the Samaritan provides for the beaten man’s long-term welfare by paying for his rehabilitation.

Jesus ends the story by asking this question, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” The man could only give one answer, “The one who took pity and treated him kindly.”

Jesus then looks at his questioner – in fact all of us – and tells us to “Go and do- go and keep on doing – the same.” We are called to exhibit the divine compassion of Christ at the sight of deep human need.

The “roadside” of today’s youth culture is littered with bruised and battered kids – outcasts crying out for a rescuer. The “road” is traveled by too many people claiming to be followers of Christ who never stop to help at the sight of deep pain, anger, and human need.

Perhaps we should approach today’s spiritually bruised and battered children and teens by praying the same prayer a man named Bob Pierce once prayed as he looked around at a physically hungry world – “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” When God answered his prayer, Bob Pierce couldn’t help but respond to what he saw. That prayer yielded World Vision, a relief organization that has answered the physical and spiritual cries of thousands of children around the world. If our prayers are sincere, I believe they will yield the much-needed and oft-absent compassion and pity of Christ towards the outcasts in today’s youth culture. It is a compassion and pity rooted in our innermost beings. It is a feeling of deep sympathy that works itself out in a complete willingness to use all the time, means, strength, and life at our disposal to act on behalf of another. It is a compassion and pity that gets us to the point where we can’t help but help.

Late on the night of March 13, 1964, a twenty-eight year-old New Yorker named Kitty Genovese was walking home from work when she was attacked. She was beaten, assaulted, stabbed, and raped. She cried and screamed for help until she was hoarse. Her attacker left her for dead. A few minutes later he came back and attacked her again. She screamed for help. Less than a half hour after he first attacked her, he came back and assaulted her a third time. Genovese screamed again. Then he walked away. It wasn’t long before Kitty Genovese died on the New York City street.

What makes this story particularly appalling is that as Kitty Genovese screamed, cried, and died, numerous people got out of bed and watched from their windows. No one came to help. No one called for help. When it was done and Kitty Genovese’s cries stopped, they walked away from their windows, turned out the lights, and went back to sleep.

Eventually, police identified and captured her attacker, a man named Vincent Mosely. Their search of the neighborhood for witnesses led to the grim discovery that thirty-eight people had watched and done nothing. During Mosely’s trial the witnesses were asked why they did nothing to help Miss Genovese. Their collective answer – “We didn’t want to get involved.” When Mosely took the stand he was asked why he kept coming back to attack Genovese when he could see all those people watching from their windows. He responded, “I knew they wouldn’t do anything – they never do.”

Could the same be said of the church today?

In her best-selling book Traveling Mercies, author Anne Lamott chronicles her unusual journey to faith. I was in the middle of reading Lamott’s book on the day Chris was found dangling from a rope. Lamott’s confusing life echoes the little bit I’ve heard about Chris. There was one big difference: when Lamott (a self-described outcast) lay hopeless and dying on the side of the road a small group of people from a church came upon her and stopped to help. She writes: “When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrews tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became my home in the old meaning of home – that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in. They let me in. They even said, ‘You come back now.’”

. . . and Jesus said, “Go and keep on doing the same.”


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