It’s better to have a friend than to be alone because friends can help each other out. If one falls down, the other can help her get back up again. I feel sad if there are people who fall down with nobody to help them get back up.
~My version of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
I fell down in Bethlehem. It seems like such a small thing, falling down, in the grand scheme of things, but from my perspective on the pavement in Palestine, it was pretty huge. I was in a vulnerable position, far away from home. I fell over my own two feet. My friends and family were worried about my safety in the West Bank because, frankly, the news we receive in the U.S. does not paint Palestinians in the best light. The thing is, I didn’t even spend enough time on the pavement to contemplate my condition before a Palestinian taxi driver pulled me up to my feet. He persisted in asking me if he could take me to a hospital and when I finally convinced him that I was not interested in going to a hospital, he and a friend pulled a taxi van right up to me, helped me into it, and drove me the short distance to my friends’ house, then helped me out and refused to take any shekels for their time. I must say I was overwhelmed by the way these strangers helped me. Once I made it inside the house, I had a loving family who took good care of me and though we had been friends, now we are family.
A couple of weeks before the fall in Bethlehem, I fell in Jerusalem. I fell right into the doorway of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the very spot where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried and raised. I cut my knee open and spilled my blood on the cold, hard floor of Golgotha. Gratefully, on that occasion I had folks with me, I had only met two of them that morning. My three companions tended to me, stopping the bleeding and making sure I remained alert and drank plenty of water. When I saw the blood, I got lightheaded and couldn’t gather my wits about me. All I wanted to do was sleep. I ended up going to a hospital that day. I rode in an Israeli ambulance, which seems totally ridiculous now, with a little cut on my knee. But I couldn’t pull my brain together and it caused people to wonder about me (haha) and we all decided not to take any chances.
We all fall down. Sometimes we fall over our own two feet and sometimes circumstances knock us down. Life can be brutal and we can suddenly find ourselves languishing in the cold, hard unforgiving depths of pain and misery. When we get down there, it can be hard to get back up. We may want to just stay there and go to sleep. We have to depend on the people around us to keep us alert and help us get back up. Likewise, when we see others fall down, we can be the friends who help pick them back up again.
People from all over the world make pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulchre church. Some expressed concern that day and even handed us items like wet wipes. But most hurried right past, paying no attention to the person on the floor, emotions from once-in-a-lifetime visit to the holy place running high, not wanting to miss the chance to kiss the holy pillars and stones. My friends told me it made them think about the story of the Good Samaritan, when some good, religious people, passed right by the man who needed help. I have totally been that person. I am sure we all have at some point.
Sometimes we put pillars and stones ahead of people. Our own needs and rights, whether religious or not, can be so pressing all-encompassing that we focus on the urgent and forget the important, even when we find ourselves at the literal foot of the cross. We so desperately need mercy, love and grace that, for Christians, is represented by the cross, but the cross also symbolizes pain and suffering. I think the point of the Good Samaritan story is that we get so caught up in our own business that we don’t even see others. We see only our needs and wants, without looking around at the hurting people lying on the side of the road. And while we all need mercy, love and grace, we need to be willing to extend it to others as well. This may come as a surprise to some Christians, but we are not called to come to Jesus. We’re called to be like Jesus. Coming to Jesus is easy. Living his teachings is not. It requires self-sacrifice. It demands that we look around and give hurting people the grace we so freely accept for ourselves. Ironically, giving love, mercy and grace to others can be where our own healing begins. It makes it possible to look back at that massive, gaping, bleeding wound in our lives and see that it was only a small cut that no longer has any power over us.
This is how we create community. This, I believe, is the Kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t require his followers to be a group of people who follow closely to a set of rules and regulations and all believe the same way about it. He talked about relationships between people who were different. Don’t just love your brothers and sisters, but love strangers as well. My three Holy Sepulchre companions, the family who cared for me, the Bethlehem taxi drivers, the EMTs who assisted me in the ambulance, my physical therapist, have all become a part of my community. I love them and have a special connection to them, even if I will never see them again. They have all impacted my life. They represent at least three religions, and maybe no religion at all. But religion is of no consequence to the kingdom of God. Jesus was Jewish. If you want to follow the way of Jesus, he never required you to join any religion. He just required you to live like he did. Many Christians find it too difficult. And many others do it better. It’s dangerous, it’s frightening, and it could cost you your life. If you’ve ever loved someone, you already know that love requires sacrifice. Love requires acceptance, even if you don’t agree. It requires openness and honesty. When you love someone, you can’t possibly make them your enemy and you would never want to do anything to hurt them. The way of Jesus is love. And when we love like he did, we bring the kingdom of God to earth.
May it be so.