As we navigate through another winter holiday season, let us all be reminded that it is going to be cold outside, even if not severe in the manner of points north and west even this week. So, everyone who is involved in being out there serving the people’s interest deserves to be shown an extra portion of consideration, patience and gratitude. Remember even the nastiest of folks are mere mortals, and we remain hopeful that for those, visits from Dickens-ish shocks to the sensibilities will turn them nicer. There is gradually a greater appreciation in our society for the fact that we don’t all fit neatly into Norman Rockwell images of the perfect holiday revelry (as much as we love Mr. Rockwell’s work), and that solace is often the most important ingredient for the season.
Don’t forget to show a little extra kindness for those who deliver your mail, and newspaper, mow your lawn, do your chores or serve you a meal at a restaurant. We all have our aches and pains, physically or emotionally, and they should not be minimized the way others may expect us to. But the best antidote to pain is to reach out beyond one’s self in a meaningful way to offer a smile and words of kindness to another person, especially if that is a person from whom one expects nothing in return.
There are two parables in the New Testament that, in our humble view, best capture the spirit of what this is all about, and they are the parables of the “Pharisee and the publican” and the “good Samaritan.” In the first one, the self-righteous religiosity of the self-obsessed Pharisee, who prays in public so that people can see him behave this way, is contrasted to the quiet self-effacing prayer of the humble publican, who seeks only the grace that can come from a sincere and private vows seeking redemption and forgiveness. While too many of today’s ugly charlatans posing as tel-evangelicals and their ilk typify the former, a true spiritual focus achieves the latter.
The parable of the good Samaritan is also self-explanatory in a similar way, contrasting the self-righteous who ignore the plight of a Samaritan in a ditch to that of the non-religious person who out of sheer compassion offers help to the disabled stranger.
To the extent anyone seeks to be in better touch with ultimate things this time of year, may we suggest a sincere focus on one or both of these parables can work wonders, not forgetting that the real publicans and real Samaritans are in our midst in droves in the here and now.
Doing what in the Jewish faith is called a “mitzvah,” a good deed, is the best “balm for the sin-sick soul,” as words to a wonderful old hymn put it.
This season should be seen as a practice field for honing an ability to behave in such a way all year around.