“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference
The opposite of art is not ugliness, It is indifference
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference
The opposite of life is not death, it is indifference”
Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor, author, and advisor to world governments penned those words regarding the soul-destroying effects of indifference. And he was one that knew- when he looked into the faces of the German guards at Auschwitz and Treblinka he didn’t see hate or disgust, he looked and saw indifference. When he found out after the war that the Allies were aware of the death camps and did nothing to destroy them or even disrupt them, he saw indifference. Indifference is the blanket that smothers life. Anger can be creative and can be a path to inspiration, but indifference has no path, it is in and of itself an end. Indifference dismisses the very life of others, shrugging it off as irrelevant and not worthy even of scorn. Indifference is the worst we can do to our fellow humans- to deny their humanity.
Jesus has been facing this constant drag on his ministry throughout our recent readings. Always there is someone to dismiss his good work, bring down his uplifting words and deny his authority. It is akin to trying to walk through waist-deep mud – the energy required to move forward is almost impossible – and yet Jesus continues.
Today’s reading is yet another example of a deflected drag-down by others. Jesus welcomed an earnest seeker in Zacchaeus, inviting him to dine with him, Zacchaeus was so overwhelmed by that simple act of charity that he gave away half his possessions and promised to make right anyone who he had wronged. What should be a triumphal story of life restored and renewed is once again dragged into the mud by those who saw themselves as superior, better, more religious than Jesus. I believe there are potentially two reasons that the writers of Luke continue to note these nay-sayers. Firstly, these nay-sayers were essentially right- Jesus did heal on the Sabbath, talk with prostitutes, welcome tax collectors, value children and widows. He was ‘guilty’ as charged, but what a wonderful charge! The second reason I believe was to show us how we should react to such charges against us. We have all been there, when we are doing what we feel is right and proper and someone who has done nothing stands at a distance and back-stabs us and our plans. “What a waste of our resources,” “That’ll never work,” “Oh, you’re running things now, are you.” These sorts of accusations are always calculated to cause the most hurt and can catch us unawares. Without our guard up, these statements can really be soul destroying. What was Jesus answer to these nay-sayers? As Michelle Obama has been quoted as saying recently “When they go low, you go high.” Jesus maintains his focus on what he’s doing and on the people he’s impacting. Jesus did not need people to build him up or be his personal cheer squad. He knew that what he was doing was important and was life affirming and life changing. If some others didn’t see that and were negative or dismissive, that didn’t matter to him. That’s the second message of today’s story- “get on with it.” There will always be people who for their own selfish reasons want to bring down others- rise above them and help the Zacchaeus you find down from the tree. Focus on what truly matters and don’t be put off.
If you haven’t heard of the poem below, have a read. It speaks powerfully of indifference.
When Jesus Came to Birmingham
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do, ‘
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
G. A. Studdert-Kennedy