I’m standing in the queue of a well-known department chain famous for its low prices on toiletries, stationary, and other things you never knew you needed. This store is certainly not John Lewis and it’s packed with ordinary Sheffield people, many of whom are on low-incomes or living on government benefits. And all of a sudden I’m aware that I’m feeling annoyed. It’s not the long queues that are making me feel this way.
No, nothing as simple as that.
It’s the people around me. It’s the way that parents are talking to kids as if they’re specks of dirt on the floor, people blaspheming and swearing all around me. Broad Sheffield accents yelling across the store. And I’m feeling annoyed. Snobbish, even.
I’m not feeling any compassion or kindness, or empathy. Nothing as nice as that.
And I’m taken aback by the intensity of my feelings. Only the day prior to this supermarket incident we had returned from a 2 week trip to India, surrounded by the poor where compassion flowed freely. And I’d wondered how the caste system could still be in play. How could any society agree that some individuals are “untouchable”, impure, not worth looking in the eye.
What kind of people would think that was acceptable?
These untouchables are the nobodies of Indian society. I remember a cleaner in the school, a low-caste lady, looking up at me as I walked past her. Crouched down whilst sweeping the floor she seemed to know that as a westerner I would greet her, that she wouldn’t be ignored by me as she would by many of her countrymen. Her eyes met with mine, hopeful for kindness, a greeting – an acknowledgement that she existed – which of course I gave her.
And so I’m wondering where that compassion has gone right now as I stand in the supermarket queue in my local shopping centre. Where are my kind eyes to the woman who is shouting at her kids? Where are my kind eyes for the guy in front who is swearing at a hundred bleeps per minute? Where is my willingness to learn from them, like those I learnt from in India?
Where are my kind eyes for them? Where has the compassion gone?
I’m sure I could come up with a million excuses about why it’s somehow harder to love these people than those in India. But love and compassion shouldn’t just be something that can be turned on and off according to the culture we’re in, or the people we’re with.
Compassion comes with no strings attached, no judgments, no conditions.
I’m sure when Jesus walked on earth He could have also come up with a million excuses of why people didn’t deserve His help.
But He never did.
He didn’t make up an excuse for why He wouldn’t die on the cross. I didn’t deserve it but He did it anyway. He saw my poverty but motivated by love and compassion He went to the cross so that I could be united with the one who loves perfectly.
It’s called grace. And I need more of it. Wherever I am. Whoever I’m with.