Posted by: owizblog | April 18, 2016

“Numbers”: Thought For The Day, BBC Radio Scotland, 18 April 2016

I hope that my first reaction to news of the huge earthquake in Ecuador was the unalloyed compassion that any such happening should command. Initial reports spoke of seventy-seven dead, in an event six times as powerful as the quake that just hit the Japanese island of Kyushu, the second there in four days. There were lots of other numbers, the injured, the homeless, but seventy-seven dead…

And I thought “That will surely climb…” [And it has]

I shuddered. The scale of what had happened had registered with me as a number. Is it that to feel appropriate compassion, I need to know the scale and size of a disaster? God forbid! That people caught up in an earthquake merit more compassion the bigger the numbers are?  It isn’t that at all. In fact, it’s the reverse of that.

Numbers crucially help experts in disaster relief to gauge their task. They can only tell me how little I can understand of a situation which is basically human, not mathematical. I only need to know that this is very, very big, so that I can respond appropriately.

But then, my mind leapt to another story in the news. This weekend on the Greek island of Lesbos, the Pope met some of the refugees who are caught in the vast flux of people that war and crisis and terror have displaced in the Middle East. This is a situation that touches us all, yet the scale of it defeats our imagination. The numbers challenge and terrify us. And our incomprehension can generate fear, callousness, even inhumanity.

And what did the Pope do? He spoke to them. “Do not lose hope. The greatest gift we can offer to one another is love.” And he took twelve of them, chosen by lot, back to the Vatican with him, as a gesture of solidarity, and a pledge of involvement and commitment. He turned the daunting, terrifying numbers back into terrified, needy human beings, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. He offered us a glimpse of the stranger as our sister, brother, neighbour, not numbers.

It’s what Jesus would have done, and I’m sure that’s why he did it.


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