Pulpit Reflections

“Jewish Lives Matter.” Look at that sentence again. “’JEWISH’ Lives Matter.” Those three words were printed neatly on a small sign. The sign was held by a middle-aged man. The man, wearing a suit, hat, and eyeglasses, looked dapper, as well-dressed, middle-aged men are often described. The man holding the sign was a black man.

Here’s the back story: on October 27, 2018, another man, this one described as a white
supremacist, entered a synagogue on the Jewish sabbath, opened fire, killed eleven prayerful Jews, wounded others, and traumatized the entire Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By the numbers, this was the most lethal, anti-Semitic act of violence ever carried out in the history of the United States.

On the day when the sitting president flew into Pittsburgh on Air Force One and spoke in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the man with the sign, having modified the slogan which is more often recognized as BLACK Lives Matter, took it upon himself to express solidarity with and sympathy for fellow human beings. He acknowledged the suffering of other individuals and stepped outside his own experience to empathize with others whose lives had been shaken and shattered and destroyed by hatred. A photographer snapped a picture, and the photo was published. The man with the sign has never been identified. Yet the image conveys a sublime and sacred sense of humanity, perhaps even
more so because the man’s identify remains unknown.

Here’s what I perceive to be the message of the sign: humans, despite our differences, are more alike than unlike. A tribesman living in the jungle of Papua New Guinea is more similar to an American, suburban mother than dissimilar. A college professor and a homeless man, sleeping in a stairwell, share a common humanity. An inmate on death row and the most devout monk are more alike than one might think.

All of us have DNA that is more akin to that of other humans than to an individual of any other species. Humans have common needs. We each possess a soul.

Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote: “…in humility count others more significant than
yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Allow me to re-state this, “Think beyond yourself.” Get out of your own experience; put aside your own needs; feel someone else’s pain, at least for a time.

The anonymous man with the sign did all of the above. We don’t know the indignities that this man had endured, or the opportunities that he had been denied, or the insults, spoken and unspoken, that he pretended did not hurt. But for a moment, those things did not matter as much. What mattered for him was the soul-squelching, life-robbing experience of another human to whom he was more alike than not. He counted someone more significant than himself.

Isn’t that what Christ did when he died on Golgotha? Isn’t that what the Cross commands us to do? Count others more significant than one’s self.

When I consider another more important than myself, I am saying:

We are more alike than unlike.
We both are humans.
You matter!
May God bless us as together we become more fully human.

(The account of the man with the sign was taken and adapted from Squirrel Hill by Mark Oppenheimer.)
Ken Tubbesing is pastor of the Martin Luther Church south of Johnson.