The pictures are heart-rending, and the grief and anguish that they show are soul-destroying, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The heart of the comfortable reader or viewer goes out to those in need, in an emotion amplified by guilt at being reasonably well fed, clothed and housed. The cry goes out that something must be done, and the politician, already flailing in bringing sense to the economy, the public finances, education and employment, is goaded once again into making instant pronouncements of condemnation. Something must be done – about civil war in Syria, the dysfunctional politics of Egypt, the security wall in Israel, or violent protests in any other city on the planet.
The easiest thing is to make pronouncements: words cost nothing. Next, one can sponsor a resolution at an international agency, normally one almost wholly lacking in effective executive authority in the area in question. Then, aid can be sent – but here it gets difficult: accountability (ie avoiding not just waste but theft), deliverability (and yes, we are running out of deployable military assets). Or downright intervention: fine until the bodies of personnel start coming home in coffins. Then something else must be done.
This rush to action, as an emotional response to dramatic pictures and quite likely, a limited understanding of the personalities, factions and issues involved on the ground, may be satisfying but not be as effective as we may hope.
Perhaps I am being rather cynical. But perhaps it is easier to campaign for peace and justice hundreds or thousands of miles away, but to neglect relationships and attitudes closer to home. The person in need who we see on the street, the person who is lonely or confused or desperate and who we see weekly at work or in church or who is a friend or relative. The breaking heart, torn by anxiety or stress who needs time that we may find difficult to offer. The demanding elder relative or young child who needs time and conversation and a sense of humour. These areas may not be dramatic, and will gain no points in the glamour stakes, but they are the places where we can make a difference.
The peace and justice that Jesus demands are the qualities that we bring to our personal encounters, and transactions and to the places where we can make a direct and personal difference. The self-giving that these offerings of time and attention, even – or perhaps especially when there is a risk or rejection or abuse – are the kinds of self-emptying that are not seen by the image-mongers or the commentators, but which the Lord who sees in secret, indeed beholds. And when the time is right, He will reward them openly.
Meanwhile fools rush in where angels fear to tread. That is why we need to pray earnestly for our political leaders: especially the ones which whom we disagree!