February 19, 2005

Burma's "Road to Jericho"

BURMA'S "ROAD TO JERICHO": Would You Engage or Turn Away?
By – Saw Kapi

Robert Seiple, former president of World Vision, once challenged us, particularly as Christians, to make responsible choices and be engaged responsibly in the world's affairs. He alluded to the importance of the Good Samaritan spirit and analogized our world as another Road to Jericho. I can vividly recall the famous parable as my mother read it to me almost three decades ago. The simple but courageous act of the Samaritan has stuck in my mind ever since, especially as I struggle with the crisis going on in Burma.

Jesus Christ tells us this story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible (Luke 10:25-37) as he answered the question of whom we should consider our neighbors. I was profoundly moved by the story since I first heard it more than twenty years ago. But it has been only recently that I discovered, or rather, could characterize the diametrically different perspectives, of the Samaritan, on the one hand, and of the Levite and the Priest, on the other. Encountering the same incident, the Samaritan ponders: what will happen to the mugged man if I do not stop and help him, whereas, the Priest and the Levite question: what would happen to me if I stop and help the man? All three of them acted according to their own instinctive and intrinsic values in life. The Samaritan helped the mugged man, but the Priest and the Levite turned away from the man.

“Must we be blind to the suffering of our neighbors? Or, must we allow ourselves to be interrupted by the ‘mugged man’ and make a difference in the lives of others?”

Today, as we walk on our road to "Jericho", many of us often find ourselves, just like the Priest and the Levite, in the situation of asking the second question and getting the answer of excuse to avoid the many responsibilities. The crisis in Burma is the allegoric road, involving the sight of pain and suffering, resulting from human rights violations. In the face of grotesque injustices committed by a powerful military regime that has triggered thousands of innocent people to flee their homes, which of the two questions would we ask ourselves? Whenever I pause for a while and think about it seriously, I invariably end up in silent weeping, but I know that the suffering people need more than sympathy and tears. To relate this to Seiple’s earlier message: "Success is illusive. It is wrong to keep score. It is right to embrace the interruption, faithfully and obediently, that God puts in our path." Living in the world that resembles so much the circumstances of the road to Jericho, we sometime would like to reach our destination within the quickest possible time, and ignore those who need our help on the way.

For "such a time as this" in Burma, the Book of Esther can teach us the most vital and pragmatic ways to respond to the hardship, injustices and challenges facing us. Esther speaks boldly and truthfully in defense of her people. She uses her stature and speaks out in favor of justice. Perhaps Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may have been inspired by the spirit of Esther when she said, "use your freedom and speak out to the world to promote ours." It seems appropriate here to recall what may be the most famous lines of Martin Luther King Jr., from a letter he wrote while incarcerated in the Birmingham jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." If this statement is true, it calls our attention to be seriously concerned about any and every injustice carried out by any group or government in every corner of the world. In the same line of logic, we are constantly threatened and morally challenged by what is going on in the deep jungles of Burma, regardless of where we live.

Jesus told us the story of the Good Samaritan to draw a sharp and revealing contrast between the way things are and the way things should be, and I am convinced that, as a believer in Christ, we must be sensitive and responsive to the injustices that we witness. The question, then, is: What should we do when we are faced with injustice? Must we be blind to the suffering of our neighbors? Or, must we allow ourselves to be interrupted by the mugged man and make a difference in the lives of others? It is a very difficult question to answer, especially when the evil is so strong. Under the circumstances, we may just have to remember to pray and recite the oft-quoted prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, the noted German-American theologian: "God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. . . . Amen."

December 2002, San Francisco, California

No comments: