Akisyon a Yesu, the name of our clinic, translates to “The Compassion of Jesus.” It’s the name on the roadside sign, the first thing you notice when you come to the gate. It’s also at the heart of the tension that I have felt ever since we first closed our doors over a month ago in the wake of a spate of thefts and attempted thefts. How do we square our own name with the hardline stance we decided to take?
We live in a culture that values meekness and temperance not at all. How, then, do we get anything done while emulating the example of our Saviour? Are we consigned to being doormats, to replace every stolen item with one identical, and another and another? Should we be like the bishop of Digne—when someone steals a water pump, we throw in the solar panel as well? Is that not the message of the Sermon on the Mount? Yet, as I noted in an earlier reflection, who would knowingly support us if we operated like that? Is the right answer a parental lecture on “this is why we can’t have nice things,” and we scale back from all the costly diaconal work we are doing until the culture of Nakaale is sufficiently sanctified?
What would our meekness do to our neighbours? The government is actively planning to install a public water scheme for Nakaale, complete with water pump, solar panels, generator. If we don’t pursue justice, won’t criminals, having got a taste for these things, naturally look at the bigger, shinier versions installed at the plot next to the clinic, and try for them as well? Does our aggressive effort toward bringing our own burglars to justice improve overall conditions in our community to the benefit of our neighbours, the way a surgeon’s knife can be used to bring better health to the whole body?
What about the rough and rowdy Jesus? What about salty Jesus? The one who drove people from the temple with a whip, the one who called a Canaanite woman a dog, who prophesied fire and brimstone on the heads of the Pharisees, the Jesus who was short with people who challenged him, and who told his followers to carry swords. I confess that there are days when it’s much easier to have a strong preference for that Jesus. That’s a Messiah who behaves the way I would were I given the job. And it’s conveniently a Messiah who would nod approvingly at the way we have handled our interactions with the community in this last month.
But the truth is, that’s only one side of the cameo. Against it stands the towering figure who had compassion on the hungry crowds, who healed blind and lame, the Lamb of God, bound and bloody, who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.
How can we, who have not the immense perspicacity of Jesus, hope to hold these two sides in balance, knowing that we will give an account for the decisions here made? Perhaps the answer to this dilemma lies in that well-worn passage, Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Anyone wiser than this armchair exegete may correct me in the comments, but it seems significant to me that we do justice, but love mercy. It’s almost possible to see a twinge of hesitancy, as though we truly want to be merciful, but know that there are circumstances when justice is mandated. Maybe that’s just a feint to justify my own proclivities, but it does seem to square well the seeming necessity of our chosen course of action and the attendant discomfiture over the negative results for many in our community.
In any case, this first week of Advent (yes, I’m sneaking that in here, too), as we have been waiting to hear some resolution from the police, we have been learning from Ecclesiastes 3 during our morning staff devotions—Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. Julius, our chaplain, minced no words in reminding us that short of the eschaton, there will be no true justice. If we pin our hopes on the Ugandan police or the Ugandan courts, or even on our avowed friends in the community, we will be sorely disappointed. No matter how many meetings we have, how many times we raise the clinic fees, or how many government officials I try to persuade, the likely outcome of all our efforts will be that the suspect they have caught will sit in the hoosegow for a few days or weeks and ultimately released. Even if we obtain a conviction, the sentence is likely to be short, and in any case, his accomplice will likely never be caught. We will not have succeeded in turning the community away from thieving as a way of life. To revisit the first discussion held following the thefts, the best we can do is convince would-be looters to “reduce their speed.”
Likewise, our neighbours cannot hope for any perfect justice from we the clinic or the mission. Much as we’ve tried to order our response so as to minimise collateral damage, there is no way around the fact that our closure has caused suffering for some people who were completely innocent of any association with the crimes committed. The compassion of Jesus is in us reflected but dimly, even on our best days.
So, at last, together we are thrown back on the great Advent promises—the king is coming who will rule justly, who will love mercy. As Isaiah says: then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness. Or consider Mary’s more elliptical words:
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
Humility ought to be the overarching attendant to all we do. Both our justice and our mercy ought to be steeped in it. We may even see humility as the hinge that holds the two sides of the diptych together in Jesus’ earthly ministry. A complete subservience to the will of his Father was the thread that ran through all he did, be it throwing tables or giving a fish to disconsolate Peter. Flawless humility allowed Jesus to hold justice and mercy in perfect solution.
Unfortunately, we aren’t living in an episode of Law & Order; the various threads of this saga will not be tied up neatly into a satisfying conclusion here and now. Our search for justice at Akisyon a Yesu Presbyterian Clinic, will likely end in a debouch. And while we are encouraged to approach God with our pleas, we may not come as a dissatisfied customer demanding to see the manager. We cry out in humility and faith, certain that whatever resolution is finally reached in Nakaale, it won’t be the final word. At the cross, even the thief—penitent—receives mercy.