One of the incidental pleasures of ministering to three congregations, as I find myself doing at present, is being reminded of the value of ordinary kindness, not only when as often it is directed towards myself, but also when it is shown to members of the congregations and to residents of the parishes.
Of course, kindness is not a virtue of Christians alone; it is demonstrated by human beings everywhere to others who share their lives, and less frequently, to strangers. Ordinary kindness to family, friends, neighbours, and fellow believers, is the type of behaviour understood by Jewish believers in Jesus’ time to be covered by the command to love their neighbours as themselves. The “neighbour” was vaguely defined as a person to whom one had a duty through kinship, work, residence or faith.
In his story of the neighbourly Samaritam Jesus subverted this decent morality by asking his hearers to imagine themselves mugged, destitute, wounded and in danger. In that situation, Jesus asked, who is your neighbour? And the answer is, the one who offers kindness without regard to ties of kinship or common faith. Without losing any of the warmth of kindness, Jesus pushes his hearers towards a more inclusive justice in which “neighbour” is a definition of the helper rather than the recipient. It rests on a recognition that when we are in need we do not ask the religion or ethnicity of the hands that help us. This truth is evident in Dundee in the work of the Taught By Mohammed Food Bank, which distributes food parcels to 100 or so needy non – Muslims referred by a range of statutary services. Nobody ever refuses food because it has been delivered by Muslim men and women. I do not know if there is a specific commandment in the Qur’an or a Hadith of Mohammed, but the faith of this organisation clearly pushes kindness towards social justice. Jesus’ parable of the final judgement, which is directed towards nations, clearly points in the same direction: whole societies are judged as to how they have cared for the least imporatant of those whom He calls his brothers and sisters. Because Jesus made his family all-inclusive, family kindness is fulfilled in justice to the needy and the outcast.
These scriptures and many others are the basis of the church’s belief in kindly justice, and of its practice of social care. Perhaps most church members and their fellow citizens approve of this sort of commitment, where it exists. But when I argue that is should also be the basis of the church’s opposition to all scapegoating of the poor and denigration of people in receipt of benefits, many will disagree with me, including some church members. Yet it seems clear to me that providing the means of life for those who lack it is a primary duty of society, as part of a justice which is more than ordinary kindness, but never less than it. Indeed inasmuch as society fails in this duty, Christain believers must not only protest, but also provide.
The point where for many Jesus pushes kindness to absurd lengths is where he commands his followers to love their enemies and to do good to them. This seems to stretch a virtue beyond its capacity. Without denying that in exceptional circumstances exceptional people may do exceptional things, how on earth can love of enemies be commanded? But then again, I have heard men who served in the army in Malaysia in the 1940’s speak of how they hated their officers more than they hated the enemy, who were frightened young men like themselves. Their fear and vulnerability led them to see the enemy as human. When we remember that our enemy is also a human being, kindness towards him/her becomes possible. We do not need to forget about our own good in order to show concern for our enemy’s good. We may rightly defend ourself against his attack, while still refusing to treat him like a thing. Even in war, this justice may exist, so that if our enemy ends up at our mercy, we may be merciful.
The Geneva Accords, which govern the treatment of civilians and combatants in war are amongst the noblest documents of humanity, because they push kindness in the direction of justice, as Jesus did, as Moses did, as Mohammed did.
The good native Australian