I overheard a story that has had a powerful effect on my understanding of just how hardened Christian people can become in order to protect themselves from seeing the engulfing hurt and need.
One semester, a seminary professor set up his preaching class in an unusual way. He scheduled his students to preach on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and on the day of class, he choreographed his experiment so that each student would go, one at a time, from one classroom to another where he or she would preach a sermon. The professor gave some students ten minutes to go from one room to the other; to others he allowed less time, forcing them to rush in order to meet the schedule. Each student, one at a time, had to walk down a certain corridor and pass by a bum, who was deliberately planted there, obviously in need of some sort of aid.
The results were surprising, and offered a powerful lesson to them. The percentage of those good men and women who stopped to help was extremely low, especially for those who were under the pressure of a shorter time period. The tighter the schedule, the fewer were those who stopped to help the indigent man. When the professor revealed his experiment, you can imagine the impact on that class of future spiritual leaders. Rushing to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan they had walked past the beggar at the heart of the parable.
We must have eyes to see as well as hand to help, or we may never help at all. I think this well-known poem expresses it powerfully:
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club
to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly
to your chapel to pray for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the
morality of my appearance.
What good did that do'
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for
But I needed you.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the
shelter of the love of God.
I wish youd taken me home.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
Why didnt you stay?
You seem so holy, so close to God; But Im still
very hungry, lonely, cold, and still in pain.
Does it matter'