Moving Forward: A Compassionate Response to Injustice
Moving Forward: A Compassionate Social Response to Injustice
Jessica Marie Mathis
Jessica Marie Mathis (center) is the Director of Mixed Greens Savannah, Inc., and a new Member of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. This guest blog on our website is her reflection about a recent event she hosted at St. Matthew's.
Although I am not officially a member of Saint Matthew’s yet, I have always felt that Father Guillermo and the St. Matthew’s congregation have accepted me for who I was. I feel like I am family. I appreciate St. Matthew’s Church’s book and topical studies, the Sunday virtual sermons, and close friends like Mrs. Della. Sometimes when I am at home listening to church, I want to say, “Praise the Lord! Thank you, Jesus!” and clap my hands!
I am the Director of Mixed Greens Savannah, Inc., “an eclectic group of community builders dedicated to building relationships through radical hospitality and universal accessibility experiences” for people with and without disabilities. On September 23, 2023, Mixed Greens Savannah was invited to hold a bake sale fundraiser outside of St. Matthew’s Church on the corner of MLK Jr. Blvd and Anderson Street. At first, everything was going well. People came out and supported us. It was sunny and bright, and I felt in my heart that it was going to be a successful day for Mixed Greens Savannah to raise funds.
Later that afternoon, three young men came up to the table with a red and white cooler saying that they were selling waters. The second time they approached the table, they said that they did not have any money to donate for baked goods and chips, so I gave them some baked goods and all the remaining bags of chips that I had. I gave them this food not only because I have a big heart and it was the right thing to do, but also because I felt that as a community leader, it was my Christian duty to help them. I was being led by the Spirit in my heart. After all, Jesus does say, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35, 40).
I gave the items for free to these young men attempting to help them in their time of need. Little did I know that the three young men that I helped would steal the money we had raised from the Bake Sale for Mixed Greens Savannah! Moments after my friend left the booth and I was alone behind the table in my wheelchair, the kids ran back and took the jar with all the cash we had collected so far.
Thankfully, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church helped us to replace the money we had lost, and then some.
This is the second time in my life that I have been robbed in the City of Savannah. I began to think, Why did those young men have to rob me of the bake sale funds? How could I help them more? Secondly, I began to think about what was the proper course of action that I should have taken to achieve justice? Some say I should have called the police and authorities to report these young people. After the robbery, however, I decided not to call the police.
The reason that this tragic event brings up questions about social justice for me is because it causes one to think about those that lack access to clothes, food, shelter, school, and economic resources in our community. To answer this question, we must look and define what justice is from a societal and biblical point of view. According to the Webster Dictionary, justice is a concern for fairness, equity and a genuine respect for other people.
Keeping this in mind, one might ask why I did not call the police and young men to the authorities? Many would say, that these teenagers should have gone to jail and faced some penalty for this crime, even serving some time behind bars. Perhaps as a result of being in jail, they and their families could have received counseling and other resources to help improve their lives.
But every day I hear on the news about Black men and women getting arrested, the harsh conditions they face behind bars, and the long sentences of incarceration they serve for crimes. Aren’t there other ways for us to handle problems in the community? With all the youth and family programs in Savannah, why are we so quick to send poor Black teenagers and adults to jail before they take the right path? Why do so many of my sisters and brothers get killed before their time?
This ordeal brought to my mind the scripture that says, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20a, 21). This means that even if people mistreat you or do wrong to you, it is your responsibility to help them without envy or hate in your heart. In order for Christians to move forward with call to social justice, we must walk in the way of compassion, healing, and forgiveness regardless of what may discourage us. In Matthew 5:23-25, Jesus states, “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” We must allow God to heal our hearts and grow our compassion.
One day, in my personal prayer time, I heard God say to me, “It is not your fault that the robbery happened. I allowed it to occur because I wanted it to be one of those experiences where you see, feel and hear the cries of my people. Those boys who robbed you, please forgive them and their parents. Continue to pray for strength, wisdom, protection, and the ability to forgive. I, Jesus, forgave the thief on the cross beside me (Luke 23:39-43). Those boys will realize their wrong in due time and due season.”
Let’s not allow our hurt, anger, or sadness to lead us to anger, violence, or revenge. Let’s practice compassionate responses to injustice and crime for Jesus’ sake.