“Religion is as religion does – all the rest is talk,” writes Irving Greenberg. A Jewish theologian, Greenberg had the Holocaust in view with his statement. It was not enough to say a prayer for Jews in the time of Hitler. It didn’t help to feel sad or to wish that someone would come to the aid of people being murdered. It was a time that called for very specific and practical behaviors.
A European Jew in 1943 needed something as specific as a Gentile home or shop where she could hide. Money. Food. Spiriting across a border. “But that would involve risk to the person providing it!” someone cries. Of course, it would. But that is the point. Faith, godly living, justice, compassion – until they are deeds instead of mere pious conversation, they don’t have meaning.
It is pretty easy to see that now. We are more than a half century away from Hitler’s gas chambers and crematoria. It is even possible to watch a movie or TV documentary and tell ourselves we would have done something back then. We can hope so. But there are good reasons to wonder.
Where does a stranger fit into your life? All of us do kind things for our family and close friends. I insist on buying lunch this time. You go to the hospital to cheer her up. You take care of his yard for six weeks while his ankle heals. You babysit their kids when they need to run an errand or just see a movie. But you’ll get all those kindnesses back. You may even be repaying things they’ve already done. It is wonderful to have such positive, supportive relationships in your life.
The challenge for many of us, though, is to name something we do for strangers. People who will never pay us back. People of a different color or religion. People whose politics we don’t like. An enemy.
If those of us who say we are disciples of Jesus do not grow in our ability to care about others in very concrete, self-sacrificing ways, we are only fooling ourselves. Poverty, sickness, loneliness, hunger, fear – no individual or family, local church or civic group can tackle all these problems. But there is one situation, one family, or one person you can help. And “help” isn’t warm feelings or kind thoughts. It is time. Putting money down. Having somebody into your home or going to theirs. Making a lonely person feel cared for. Tutoring a child.
Religious rituals are no substitute for compassionate actions. If the Marines are looking for “a few good men,” Jesus is searching for a few real disciples – people whose religion is Christ-imitating love and not mere church prattle.
Reprinted from Rubel Shelly’s FAX of Life.