The Problem with Bystanding

I found it hard to breathe today. Maybe there was something in the air all morning, something huge and hanging in the atmosphere that brought foreboding of what was to come.

A friend posts it over and over again on his Facebook wall: Christ, have mercy.

And it echoes in my heart and screams in my head and makes my stomach turn sour, because all of me and all of my friend are begging Christ for mercy over all of this.

On Sunday at church, we discussed the story of the Samaritan who brought his tired body to the bloodied one laying bare by the side of the road. It was the story of “the one who showed mercy,” while the bystanders scampered to the other side of the road and shielded their eyes from pain and from the body of a man who was destined for a kind of social leprosy.

I had to draw a picture of it, because my head wasn’t understanding it, my heart wasn’t fully grasping what was going on until I could see it in black ink. Poorly drawn, but with the facts sprawled out before me, Jesus’ heart for story was portrayed as little people on a steep road’s incline.


In class, David called it a “leap from emotion to action,” like some sort of switch being turned on that causes gears to lurch, which brings about the hard breathing and the echoes and the screams. Even the souring stomach means that my soul is tired of bystanding– my soul and yours and all of ours, collectively.

If the story means anything to us, we cannot go about with no utterances. We must plead for help and mighty justice.

If I can’t at least stand at my kitchen sink and scream out for God’s mercy, what am I doing?

If I’m not tuning my heart to the constant ache of Michael Brown’s mother or Eric Garner’s wife, I am the bystander in every way, and my ignorance claims me.

It’s Advent, the season of preparedness for the Prince of Peace, for celebration of His coming once and coming again, fully robed in every promise made to every person.

If I am not digging my heels into community, gathering around others in prayer for all reconciliation to fall hard on us and to fall quickly, I am missing everything.

It is beyond reaction, but it is beyond despair. Hope gathers us in, gathers all people and all things.

But we mustn’t shield our eyes any longer.

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