The least of these

Laws. The world lives by them. The government controls with them. The religious judge by them. No matter who you are or where you live, laws impact your life–whether you realize it or not.

In this day and age, too many people concern themselves with the laws or rules they think everyone should live by and follow. Police officers and other law enforcement think you should follow criminal laws–though sometimes lawyers will argue and turn guilty people innocent or point out a seemingly-guilty person’s innocence. Christians think you should follow the Ten Commandments–though the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ abolished them and came to show us grace, mercy, and salvation. Muslims think you should live by the Koran and so on.

To a point, we should follow laws. They bring us order and an understanding about what is and is not acceptable and tolerable in society. But where other laws or rules are concerned–ones that won’t hurt someone–that’s where we need our conscience, moral compass, and compassion. Compassion is key.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” It has nothing to do with what the laws or rules say. It’s about grace and mercy.

Since the writing of the Ten Commandments, many followers of Christ have been about obeying the laws more than embracing the reason Christ came to begin with: to abolish the law and save us from our sins through His blood shed and sacrifice of body. There have always been those people–the ones who care more about following the rules and less about loving their neighbors and showing compassion. And sadly, there will be some until Christ’s return.

Christ showed us how to respond in compassion when the scribes and Pharisees once brought him a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. They handed her over to Jesus and told Him that the law of Moses commanded the woman be stoned. They responded by asking Jesus what he had to say about it–fishing for a reason to accuse Him of something.

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:7-11)

The woman committed adultery. She broke the law. And the followers of the law, the scribes and Pharisees, wanted her killed for it. They showed no understanding or compassion. They obviously didn’t understand who Christ was or why He was there. And they wanted Him to obey the laws of Moses, the rules by which they lived. And how did Jesus respond? By reminding them that none of them are without sin in their lives. And He did it tactfully and tastefully and without condemnation, not focusing on the woman’s wrongdoing or what the law says or even pointing out the things they’ve done wrong. He showed them they were all equals, and they left–probably because they didn’t want to hear it. (The truth hurts sometimes.) He stood back up, asked the woman where her accusers were, knowing very well they left. And when she said no one has condemned her, He told her He wasn’t either, and to “go and sin no more.”

He showed her compassion. Why? Was He ever a prostitute? No. Did he ever commit a crime? No. Could he completely understand what she did or why? No because he was never caught in the same situation or in sin. But he showed her compassion. He showed her grace and mercy and not only spared her life but saved it from those who wanted her stoned. He had pity on her and showed concern for who she was, why she was doing what she did, and the condition of her soul–even though he could not relate. He simply cared. The law didn’t matter there. And in certain situations and circumstances, it shouldn’t matter with us, either, believers and unbelievers alike.

There are a couple recent rule or law breakers I want to mention–two I think who are noteworthy and certainly have my respect.

One day during my recent trip to California, I was sitting in this pizza shop at the bar, drinking a beer and watching TV. I had already eaten but had time to kill and wasn’t sure what to do. It was a weekday and lunchtime, and many patrons came in for a couple slices and a pop. They came and went as I passed the afternoon on the stool, pretending to drink the day away while sipping one beer. After the rush came through, and those who were staying were sitting at various tables, a man walked in the door. He had on shorts and a camo jacket. He was dirt-stained, but I could not tell if he was homeless or had been out working somewhere. He had his left sleeve pulled up and he was scratching his arm. He passed the pizza counter and went around the bar towards the soda fountain and bathroom. I thought he was going to ask to use the restroom before he ordered food. By the time he got over there, an employee was standing there to greet him. It was then I realized the man was homeless. He asked the owner if he could have some water. And although he could have told the man to leave because they’re not allowed inside establishments to beg, he kindly pulled a cup from the stack, filled it up with water, and handed it to the man. The man grabbed the cup, took a drink, and headed for the door. I never saw him again.

Sure–to you and I–this gesture doesn’t seem like a big deal. But that’s because we have water or can get some if we want or need it. But to a man who has nothing, who lives on the streets and doesn’t even have a change of clothes, that cup of water could’ve saved his life. It could’ve been the one cup that kept him from dehydration. We will never know. And that pizza shop employee could have ordered him to leave (and got him in trouble for coming in to begin with) but he didn’t–not even after he gave him the water. He showed him kindness and compassion. And the water and cup weren’t free. Someone was paying for it. If I had asked for water to go with my pizza, they would have charged me for it. But the guy ignored the laws and broke the rules to show compassion for another human being. It was beautiful.

The other situation involves someone I am not even sure of: the maintenance crew of the apartment complex I live in.

Outside my apartment door on the adjacent walls are emergency exit signs and light fixtures. On top of each one is a plastic spikey thing which is there to keep birds from nesting. Businesses frown on birds taking up residence (and making messes) in places where humans congregate, especially in places where they are trying to entice people to live. And every week, the lawn crew and various maintenance people are doing work here–mowing and cleaning and fixing things for residents. And atop one of the signs rests a nest, a bird family from which I gather will be hatching eggs very soon. It’s a good sized nest, one that has been there (and clearly ignored) for a while. I see it every morning, amazed that they have not torn it down and happy that they’ve let the family live. The crew is supposed to clean things like that up, get rid of them, etc. But they have shown compassion on another living being (and her family) and let her stay there though they could get in trouble for neglecting it. They showed compassion towards some animals though their rules instruct otherwise. “His eye is on the sparrow,” you know, and I’m sure they appreciate it.

Again–this might not seem like a big deal to you or I–but we aren’t birds. We haven’t just built houses in areas where we aren’t sure of the safety of our surroundings. Have you ever had your home destroyed or taken away from you by someone who was instructed to do so? What a horrible situation that would be! God bless the crew who ignores this with every visit, who shows compassion and allows the bird family to live there though they are not welcome. Jesus will reward them the same as the guy who gave a cup of water to the homeless man.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

“The godly are concerned for the welfare of their animals, but even the kindness of the wicked is cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10)

May God remind us that we are all equal and not above showing compassion to one another. May He humbly remind us that we could at any time become the ones in need.

Goodnight. Much love. God bless.

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