Outside the local government offices, a politician exits the council chamber and makes his way to his parked Nissan. On his way, he almost trips over the prone form of a vagrant down on his luck, penniless and hungry. Thank God we have that bill going through committee to clean up the streets; such an eyesore, and an imposition on citizens just wanting to mind their own business he thinks to himself. Shortly after this, a pastor emerges from the mega-church complex over the road. He has a lunch appointment, and heads briskly to his awaiting BMW 7 series, thankful for his part, that his journey to the car will not require him to pass anywhere near the ailing body on the sidewalk. Lastly, a woman dressed unseasonably warmly in the garb of a practicing muslim walks toward the unfortunate in her path and she can be seen to give him something, then using her phone, it transpires that she calls him a cab and in a few minutes, he is making his way to a nearby hospital, where his needs for treatment can be met.
This modern take on a story told by Jesus is testimony to an attribute much demonstrated and yet, in my experience, not often stressed today. Personally, I have been deeply challenged concerning the demonstration of this precious commodity, kindness. The thing I noticed as I meditated on the way it is emphasized in the life of Jesus, was the universal nature of both giver and receiver. The story above could involve a homeless unfortunate, or a well to do citizen who had been robbed and left by his attackers. The original story was, in fact, the latter. However, from the start, Jesus himself demonstrated his kindness in the provision of wine at the wedding in Canaa. These were no needy recipients, simply friends and family celebrating a wedding where wine consumption had been under-estimated! Later, he protects the dignity of a prostitute about to be stoned to death and kindly releases her from her fate by shaming her executioners. He even surprises his own followers when encouraging a woman who anoints Jesus himself with perfume and washes his feet with her tears. A simple act of kindness with no other purpose than to enhance the dignity of the one served.
The many acts of kindness and stories demonstrating humanity reaching out to touch others seem to be a major theme of the life and teachings in these new testament accounts. And yet, I find myself constantly challenged that this is not my default behaviour towards others, nor does it seem to be the prevailing culture of today’s church. The problem with kindness is that it requires an inner attitude of preferring others to ourselves. We live in a world of selfies, self-fulfillment, finding our own destiny, the American dream and protecting ourselves from an ever more threatening world. Kindness withers when the weeds of self-preservation take hold and encourage us to protect ourselves, our property, our privacy or whatever else we hold dear and inviolable. The problem is that true community and a thriving culture of kindness relies on self taking second place whilst our trust in those around us flourishes despite the many failures we experience.
And there lies the real secret of a culture of kindness. In the film ‘Paying it Forward’, a young Haley Joel Osment sparks a series of acts of kindness, all of which depend not on receiving something back in return, but, instead, produce a chain reaction of kindness that spreads further as it impacts each random recipient. At the heart of real kindness, is the lack of expectation in reciprocity. The simple sense of passing on something that benefits the object of kindness for no other reason than to augment the sense of well-being engendered. It seems to me that, with enough momentum, a viral epidemic of kindness could very well transform our families, neighborhoods, and communities. And perhaps that is why Jesus majored on the subject. His willingness to suffer and demonstrate this in his own life, whilst being repaid in quite a different manner is the ultimate example. A preacher friend of mine often used to say that Jesus is the kindest person he knows. I have a feeling the world we live in might be quite different if this became the prevailing culture.