You've probably caught the online sensation photo of a NYPD officer putting a pair of socks and boots on the feet of a homeless man on a cold night earlier this month. If you haven't, take a moment to read the NY Times article - it will warm your heart almost as much as it did that man's feet.
While I'm tempted to draw comparisons between the officer's actions and Jesus' words in Matthew that whenever we care for "the least of these" we are caring for Jesus (Mt. 25:31-46) or how much this scene reminds me of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (Jn. 13:1-20), I won't. Both, I think, are apt comparisons. But I want instead to focus on something else: why did this cause such a sensation?
Officer Lawrence DePrimo wondered the same thing, surprised that anyone saw him or, for that matter, would wonder why he'd help someone in need on such a cold night. The answer, I think, comes in part from the manager of the shoe store where Office Deprimo bought the shoes: "We were just kind of shocked. Most of us are New Yorkers and we just kind of pass by that kind of thing. Especially in this neighborhood."
Actually, that explains why most of us look away when we see someone in need: we're used to seeing it, aren't sure we can do anything about, maybe fear getting involved, etc. In short, we've been desensitized to the pain of others.
But that doesn't fully explain why the photo - taken by an Arizona vacationer and eventually posted on the NYPD Facebook page - became such a sensation, in two weeks attracting 275,000 "Likes" and more than 16,000 comments. Here, I think, the issue goes deeper, as I worry that we've lost our confidence in ourselves and others to do good.
Interestingly, the shoe store manager who described the plight of the homeless man as pretty ordinary in that part of town used his employee discount to bring down the price of the boots for the office. He also, that is, pitched in to help. And yet we're still shocked when people do, indeed, help each other out.
And so rather than turn to Matthew 25 or John 13 today, I'll instead invite us to focus on a line from Paul's Letter to the Philippians:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8).
Why does Paul draw his counsel to his congregation to a close with these words? Because Paul knows that what we think about, what we look at, and what we focus on greatly shape our imaginations, forms our expectations, and ultimately sets limits to what we believe is possible.
Perhaps we are shocked when others do acts of kindness - and less prepared to do them ourselves - because we've spent too much time reading news media where the controlling maxim is "if it bleeds, it leads." Perhaps we're number to the goodness all around us because we focus too much of our attention on what is wrong in the world rather than on what is right. Perhaps we're dull to beauty and kindness because we've attuned ourselves too precisely to the sin of this world instead of the grace with which God also imbued it.
And so, in a modest attempt to even the score a bit and to invite us to think on what is honorable, good, pleasing, and true, I'll commend to you the following video. Take note, it's a commercial for Coca-Cola. But whether it was made to warm the heart or sell more of the brown elixir, it still reminds us of something true: before there was original sin, there was original blessing. And that blessing, aided and abetted by the living Spirit of God, is still a powerful force in the world.
Each and everyday, we're invited to make a choice: we will see lots of things - beautiful and terrible, wonderful and awful, good and bad, encouraging and discouraging. Which will we focus on, remember, and share with others? Which, that is, will we really see?
Much hinges on our decision.