In reading and researching for this devotion today, I came across this quote from St. Francis Assisi. Throughout the history of the movement of the Church, there are examples of people who show extreme kindness and compassion for those in their spheres of influence. One such person that lived this out is St. Francis Assisi (1194-1253). People like Assisi practiced the great compassion of Jesus in the communities they found themselves. They led, not from above, and not even from below, but mostly from within, by walking with their brothers and sisters, or “smelling like the sheep.” I love this way of articulating the version of Kindness and Compassion that we are called to live out. What does that phrase mean to you and how does it tie to what we heard about kindness throughout this week?
Over and over again, people were compared to sheep in the Bible and God or Jesus was referred to as the Great Shepherd. While it isn’t always a flattering comparison of us (sheep being stupid and all), the point is clear, we can only “smell like the sheep” when we get to the place by being WITH the people. We are doing life with them enough so much so that we start to smell like them. Jesus called us to do life with others in less than comfortable or glamorous places and to reach people where there is need, not where our preferences are met. This takes on many forms. Some are intense and extreme and only happen a few times in our lives, like the story that Pastor David shared about Julio Diaz, the social worker from the Bronx who showed kindness to the young man who tried to rob him at knifepoint. But then there are other less extreme examples of “smelling like the sheep” when we stop in the busyness of our day to jump someone’s car battery, or use our umbrella to walk a mom with two kids on her hip to her car in the pouring rain or pay for the person’ coffee behind us in the Starbucks line. The more we live with people, especially people in need, the more we start to “smell” like them.
As I was driving home last night, I heard this powerful story on NPR about how young Polish adults are responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and how their kindness and compassion has left them changed, or “smelling like the sheep.” Since the war in Ukraine began, almost 3 million Ukrainian refugees have come to Poland for safety. Polish people have given their time, talent and even space in their homes to help fellow brothers and sisters. One of the reporters interviewed three Polish young adults living in Warsaw and asked them how their work with Ukrainian refugees was changing them and those in their generation. One of the Polish young adults shared how on the day the war started, she couldn’t stop crying, so instead of wallowing or simply hoping things would improve, she and her roommates decided to do something about it. They opened their apartment to not one, but 8 Ukrainian refugees and are currently sharing a small space with lots of people for almost 3 months now. Her deep sadness over the war and her interactions with the refugees made her reevaluate everything she did in her life. What a powerful statement that gets to the heart of the Kingdom. The more we are with the people and smell like the sheep, we begin to reevaluate our life, our priorities, our prejudices, our wants and needs and then slowly, little by little Kingdom seeds are planted and cultivated.
What I found most interesting about the interview is that this wasn’t always the case. When the Syrian refugee crisis broke out 5 years ago, there wasn’t nearly the same response. Poland’s borders were closed and they were not welcoming to refugees. And I believe a lot of lessons were learned through that. No country is perfect, no group of people has it all figured out, but in this story, I see how grace gives second chances and we will never run out of opportunities to be kind and compassionate. If we ignore or shrug off one, more will come our way because that is the way God’s refining fire works. We could speed past an opportunity to be kind at the beginning of the day, but then see it with fresh eyes at the end of the day. We will never run out of opportunities to share God’s love and grace with others. And if we are willing to be people that serve and love and have compassion on the people we are doing life with, we will end up smelling like the sheep and never be the same again.
That is my prayer for me, for you and for all followers of Jesus. May God add God’s blessing to the reading and digesting of this thought.