A million years ago, when I was fifteen, I was able to visit New York City with several friends. While there, we went to the Broadway musical, “42nd Street.” I don’t remember much about the show at all, except one scene. The scene was mimicking the hustle and bustle of the city outside, while a woman in center stage was mourning the loss of the one she loved. No one stopped. No one mourned with her. Life had to go on. It was hers to bear alone.
I remember it affecting me profoundly, most likely because I was facing some sort of teenage drama at the time, feeling no one saw my pain while they enjoyed their trip to the Big Apple. But those feelings resurface today for someone else’s pain. Today I’m thinking about a family burying their teenage son. He died too young and too tragically at his own hands. As tragic it is, their mourning is silenced by the deafening screams of the masses.
If I in any way choose to expose myself to media right now, the focus is clear. Riots. Protests. Marches. Some are peaceful. Some are not. Whether or not we individually agree with the motives behind each of them, the truth remains that those involved are fighting passionately for causes they believe in. So much trauma and anger and unrest. Those that are not feeling the unrest or anger are angry with those who are for expressing it. Our society is a deafening mess at the moment.
In the middle of it all, people are grieving deep, personal losses. They are burying children. They are grieving a husband that has betrayed them. They are wondering what their purpose is. They are working two jobs and still unable to keep their house.
As I’m thinking about this tension in our culture between large public issues that must be solved and the hurt of individuals being ignored in the midst of it, I’m reminded of Jesus’ challenge to a group of people facing the same dilemma.
A woman came to Jesus while he was having dinner with friends. She broke open a jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. Many mocked her wastefulness, saying she could have sold the perfume and used the money for the poor, rather than dumping it all on one person’s head. But Jesus gives a very interesting reply, defending the woman’s actions. He tells the mockers, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me” (Mark 14: 7 NIV).
Jesus isn’t saying not to take care of the poor. He isn’t saying to ignore the cause. But he is reminding us that there brokenness in this world that will always be there. Poverty, injustice, prejudice, slavery…they have been around for thousands of years. Should we fight against it? Yes! Should we do our part? Absolutely! But at what expense?
Jesus commended the one who made incredible sacrifice to honor and show value on one solitary person who was getting ready to die. While the needs of the masses are loud, they are also insatiable and ever-present. But the lady next door? Her needs might be met today.
So while we are caught up in the deafening mess of wrongs that must be righted and systems that must be changed, we must not forget the one in our midst who is worth all we have. The friend who is grieving is worthy of all of our attention. The one burying their son deserves to have the world stop for them, just for a moment, and acknowledge their pain. While we hope to make world-impacting changes and large scales, we cannot forget the one life we could save with our undivided attention. For the world is often changed by changing one life.