Monday, August 14, 2006

"Be compassionate as God is compassionate"

If I had to summarize the Christian faith using a single phrase, I would choose the words attributed to Jesus in Luke 6:36: "Be compassionate as God is compassionate."(New English, Jerusalem and Scholars versions). These words point to the important fact that Christianity is above everything else, a way of life and not simply a belief.

Moreover, this passage makes it clear that Christianity is a way of life modelled after what God is like. God is compassionate, says Jesus; therefore we too must be compassionate.

How are we to understand this key word "compassion", a word that is so important in the gospels?

It may seem for some to be a very "weak" value, associated with being "nice" and "letting people off the hook", as if the compassionate persons would say in every situation ..... "it’s O.K., I understand".

But this is certainly not how Jesus understood the virtue of compassion, nor is it the biblical understanding of the word.

The strength of compassion as a value can be seen by looking at its opposites: hatred, abuse, brutality, injustice, indifference, selfishness, self-righteousness, hardness of heart, racism, sexism and so forth. The person who lives with compassion stands actively against all these things.The person of compassion non-violently resists these things.

"Compassion", in the biblical tradition (as opposed to the Hallmark Greeting Card tradition) is therefore not in any sense a "weak" value that passively tolerates everything.

Moreover, for Jesus, compassion was more than an individual virtue - it was political, that is, "political" in the broad sense of the term, meaning concern for the shape and the shaping of society and how this affects the people in that society.

All those forces - government policies, institutions, system etc. ..... everything that influences and shapes society, should be of vital concern to the person of compassion.For Christians, Jesus is our example here again. He directly and repeatedly challenged the socio-political paradigm of his day and suffered the consequences of his stand.

Christianity is a way of life ... a way of being - a "way" that is defined by a life of compassion.

Christianity is not a matter of assenting to certain doctrines and propositions (although the search for "truth" is important, of course). As Jesus reminds us, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. 7:21)...In other words, you can say all the right things, be doctrinally impeccable....and still be a jerk.

Acknowledging the lordship of Jesus, or saying ‘I believe’ is not enough. Rather, he continues, it will be those who do God’s will who will enter into God’s presence.

"Be compassionate as God is compassionate".

1 comment:

MakeCulture said...

Sigh, I wonder how so many Christians go astray? The gospels just makes so much sense and provides clear guidance when you actually read them. Yet, I feel like I have spent my life debating with violent and hateful Christians.