The Cost of Indifference
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
John 5: 1-9
Rev. Judy noted in her Sunday May 22 sermon that the man in this gospel story had been ill for 38 years. By first century Palestine standards that was almost a lifetime. In all these years, in his entire lifetime he had been ignored. When I teach the children about Jesus's miracles I always tell them that perhaps the real miracle was that Jesus looked at people. Jesus turned his attention to those who were ignored, shunned by society. You see in the first century no one understood germs and ailments we commonly treat and forget. Conjunctivitis blinded people, a broken leg unset lamed people, epilepsy resulted in being labeled as demon-possessed. And all these conditions were believed to have been caused not by illness or injury but by sin. You must have sinned and sinned badly to be in such a state. Or your family had. So this man was passed by, ignored in his need for simple comfort and care. Blocked perhaps from enjoying the waters of the spring as he was not worthy.
Or perhaps it was simpler. Perhaps it was not active behavior on the part of the passerby. Perhaps is was indifference. The cost of indifference for this man was any hope of restoration to life's fullness. The cost of indifference for this man was life.
As it has been for too long and too many in this country. I'm picking one example out of a bouquet of social injustices: mass shootings. How long have we cried out, yelled and screamed, grieved and prayed, marched and lobbied to address the needless death caused by gun violence in our neighborhoods? Years, decades, longer than many of the victims were alive. A lifetime.
And still the violence persists. The disease endemic. And the math is deadly: hate+guns=death. Let us not be so numbed that we cease to see and feel the pain these deaths inflict on family, community, and nation. Let us not be inured to the terror left in the wake of gunfire and ignorance. Let us honor and remember and vindicate the victims. Let not the indifference of empire erase the humanity of lives lost. Say their names.
The Washington Post recently updated (updated!) a powerful litany of the cost of mass shootings in America. It begins in April 1999 with Columbine. It continues year after year with accounts of those killed in schools, stores, places of worship, offices, restaurants, entertainment venues, and in everywhere and anywhere of our daily lives. It ends with Buffalo.
I am embarrassed to say I had forgotten some of them.
It is a brutal read. And this list does not include the domestic violence, neighborhood violence, and police violence (this is the second anniversary of George Floyd's death) too common in our shared lives. There are those in this community who have fought and fought hard - fought themselves to exhaustion for change yet change seems so elusive. Why? Does indifference make it easier to pass by? Does labeling it sin allow us to walk away? Does it just feel like there are too many people blocking our way to make the changes that end this tragic litany?
I don't know. I wish I did.
It has been a lifetime.
Photo from the Washington Post