At the end of World War II when the Allied armies defeated the Nazi forces, they began to discover the ugly truth about the holocaust of the Jews. In Poland and Germany, the concentration camps were liberated and the horrors taking place there were revealed to the world. General Eisenhower, the leader of the American forces, insisted that photographs of the piles of skulls, mass graves and gas chambers be taken so that the world could never forget or deny what took place there. He also forced the villagers to tour the camp and see for themselves what had been going on in their own towns.
Even more than 60 years later, it still shocks us that more than eight million of our fellow human beings could be slaughtered and that so many other people looked the other way. More recently we hear of human tragedies in Rwanda, Nigeria, Darfur and Kyrgyzstan and wonder why no one will stop it. The sad fact is that too often those who have the power to provide some relief to a persecuted soul tend to look the other way and choose to ignore the suffering of their fellow human beings.
How have our hearts become so hardened? We have forgotten the lesson which Jesus taught the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Every woman and man is my neighbor. I must love and serve everyone I come into contact with no matter their nationality or race. I must even love those who hate me. This radical truth is at the heart of the gospel message. Jesus loved me and died for me even though I am a sinner. I must love and give my life over for my neighbors no matter the cost even if I do not know them and even if they do not thank me.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, there have been people who, like the Good Samaritan, refused to look the other way when their neighbor was suffering. Throughout Europe during the Second World War many people at great personal risk opened their homes to Jews who were fleeing the Nazis. They did not allow their fears to keep them from showing compassion to those in need. Neither did they say that there was nothing they could do. Rather they provided whatever help they could and brought some hope to those in despair.
There is a cost to reaching out and helping others. So often we look the other way when our neighbor is suffering because we are afraid to get involved. We do not want to be the next victims. We excuse ourselves by saying that we have enough troubles without getting mixed up in the problems of our sisters and brothers. To ease our conscience, we might say a prayer for them. But that prayer is of no use if we have the means to pull our neighbor out of the gutter and refuse to do so.
Too often we look the other way because we believe there is nothing we can do. The weight of the world's problems seems too great for any one of us to bear. Sometimes we feel that we are barely capable of keeping up with the demands our families and jobs place upon us. But we are never completely powerless in the face of evil. If we have voices, then we can speak out against injustice. If we have hands, then we can reach them out to those who suffer. There is always something we can say or do when our neighbor is being persecuted or treated unfairly. We need simply to pray for the courage to do so. And once we do speak out, others will be inspired to do the same. We can make a difference, no matter how small, by letting our hearts be moved with compassion for our fellow human beings and by allowing our hands to be opened to them.
All over the world, tragedies take place simply because there is no one to help. In our own country there is crime, poverty and injustice because we would rather cross the street than help our neighbor out of the gutter. If we are to survive as a society, we must learn the truth of Jesus' teaching. All men are my brothers. All women are my sisters. I cannot make a future for myself if my neighbor is lost in despair. I cannot be healed if I do not treat the wounds of my fellow human beings. And I cannot be saved so long as my brothers and sisters wander in darkness. Most importantly, I cannot worship the God I do not see if I refuse to help my fellow human beings whom I do see.
When we were dead in our sins, Jesus died to bring us to life. Though we have rejected him, he never ceases to reach out to us with his grace and mercy. We gather here today, many of us with hearts burdened by grief and pain, to find some comfort in God's love. Can we who find such comfort in God's word now look the other way when our neighbor is suffering? Can we who are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ now refuse to feed the hungry who come to our door? We will not look the other way because the love of God has now entered our hearts giving us compassion for our neighbor. And the Spirit of God gives us the power to lift him out of the gutter no matter what the cost may be to us personally. Our reward for stepping out in faith to save others will be that our God will reach down to save us at the hour of our death and bring us to that place where there will finally be no more tears and no more suffering.