Category: Compassion (page 1 of 2)

Compassion in action: charity, service, and justice

Compassion is a feeling of empathy with the suffering of others, the capacity to feel how others feel. The Latin root of the word compassion is a compound of com (with) and passio (suffer), which gives us the meaning to suffer with. Compassion is entering into the pain of another. It is feeling the suffering of someone else—experiencing it, sharing it, tasting it. It is identifying with the sufferer, being in solidarity with the sufferer.

True compassion is being so moved at a gut level that we are moved to the point of action. Jesus was moved by compassion for the poor. We are told that, “He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36) And in the parable of the Good Samaritan he demonstrated that the one who loves the neighbor is the one who shows compassion on the one who suffers, even if that person is culturally defined as the enemy.

Marcus Borg (1942–2015) has said that, “For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God.” The Pharisees represented a theology of holiness, according to Borg, which was based on holiness as a defining characteristic of God: “Be holy for I, Yahweh, am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44) Jesus proclaimed a theology of compassion based on an alternative characterization of God’s essence: “Be compassionate as your Father in heaven is compassionate.” (Luke 6:36) These differing theologies led them to different ways of living.

compassionate action

Compassionate action usually takes three forms: charity, service, and justice. Although some would include service under the first category, charity more specifically involves gifts of money, clothing, food, or other material goods, but does not necessarily involve an investment of our time and talents. Charity is important, but writing a check to a worthy does not really change us in a fundamental way. Although charitable giving demonstrates a generous nature, we often remain distant from those we seek to help. Service, however, involves us face-to-face with those in need. It can be an immensely transformative experience that can change us from our natural state of self-centeredness into increasingly selfless people. Perhaps it is the only thing that will. Although generosity sometimes leads to self-satisfaction, service often becomes a very humbling experience.

Charity and service are both personal forms of compassionate action. Their objective is to alleviate the effects of suffering in the world. Justice, on the other hand, seeks to eliminate the root causes of suffering. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) said:

We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.

Justice is focused on transforming the social structures and systems that produce poverty and suffering. Justice is the social form of compassionate action. It is the political means of caring for the least of these. The difference between charity and service on the one hand and justice on the other is this: charity and service seek to heal wounds, while justice seeks to end the social structures that create wounded people in the first place. William Sloane Coffin (1924–2006) has said: “The bible is less concerned with alleviating the effects of injustice, than in eliminating the causes of it.” Still, all three of these are necessary components of what German martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) described as righteous action in the world. Together, righteous action and contemplative prayer would form the essence of a  “religionless Christianity” in our day.

Our being Christian today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action among [humanity]. All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action.

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the kingdom of God: an introduction

The time is fulfilled, the kingdom is at hand. (Mark 1:15)

The kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)

The kingdom of God is among you. (Luke 17:21)

The kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it. (Gospel of Thomas 11)

At the heart of the gospel of Jesus is the kingdom of God. This one phrase sums up the entire ministry of Jesus and his whole life’s work. Jesus spoke in Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek. The expression kingdom of Godbasileia tou theou (bas-il-EH-ah too THEH-oo) in Greek and malkutha d’elaha (mal-KOOTH-ah dehl-ah-HAH) in Aramaic—points to the ruling activity of God over human social relationships.

As we read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see that every thought and saying of Jesus was directed and subordinated to one single thing: the realization of the reign of God’s love, compassion, justice, and peace within human society. Although Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God frequently, he never clearly defined it. Instead, he spoke of it in parables, comparing something familiar (mustard seed, leaven, lost coins, a man who sowed a field) with something unfamiliar.

Then he said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” (Luke 13:18)

Therefore, we must always test any proposed definition or meaning of the kingdom against the parables. Over the centuries, a variety of interpretations of what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God have been put forth. We will briefly examine six of the most common explanations: the reign of God as 1) heaven, 2) an inner spiritual experience, 3) the church, 4) a separate society, 5) a new state, and 6) a new world. Continue reading

Jesus, Justice, and the Law

 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.
Deuteronomy 16:20 (the Law)

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice?
— Micah 6:8 (the Prophets)

Strive first for the reign of God and God’s justice.
— Matthew 6:33 (the Gospels)

Was Jesus a law-abiding citizen? Or did he teach us to step outside the law when needed in the name of compassion and justice? Traditional orthodox Christianity claims that Jesus was perfect and sinless, fulfilling the Law of Moses and the Prophets of ancient Israel. Therefore, he obeyed the Hebrew Law completely. But the truth is more complex, illustrating the tension between written and oral laws and the biblical call to justice.

During his life, Jesus experienced three despotic structures of government organized for a privileged few at the expense of the common good of the majority. Upon the death of Herod the Great (73–4 BCE), his kingdom was divided among his three sons. Galilee was a monarchy ruled by his son Herod Antipas (born before 20 BCE – 39 CE). After the removal of his brother Herod Archelaus (23 BCE – 18 CE) by Rome in 6 CE, Judea was ruled directly by a Roman Procurator who reported to the governor of Syria. However, the day-to-day operations were entrusted to a wealthy oligarchy (meaning the ruling few) of the Sadducees, sometimes referred to in the gospels as “the leaders of the people,” or “the chief priests and the elders.” In conquered territories, it was always Rome’s practice to find indigenous collaborators to rule on their behalf. And they always chose people from the wealthy class who saw it in their personal interest to support power when it advantaged them. On top of these structures was an emperor in Rome—first Augustus (63 BCE – 14 CE), and then Tiberius (42 BCE – 37 CE)—who was essentially a self-appointed dictator. So Jesus was confronted by a monarchy in Galilee, an oligarchy in Jerusalem, and a dictatorship in Rome.

There were obviously overlapping legal systems in place in this conquered nation, but the one that is usually discussed in regards to Jesus is the Hebrew Law found in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. At the time of Jesus, there were three levels of Hebrew Law. At the core were the Ten Commandments, which we are told were given on stone tablets to Moses by Yahweh.[1] Surrounding these were 316 laws (mitzvot) found in the Covenant Code[2] of Exodus, the Holiness Code[3] of Leviticus, and the Deuteronomic Code[4] of Deuteronomy that were written over hundreds of years. The three codes are significantly different in the range of social and religious issues they cover, the style in which they are written, and the fundamental rules they establish. They can broadly be conceived of as the law of the tribes, the law of the Temple, and the law of the royal court. They show a progression from a primitive tribal confederacy to a sophisticated temple-state ruled by a king. Debating specific interpretations of the Law was an ongoing activity, resulting in an oral law developed by the Rabbis and Pharisees. They viewed it as creating a ‘fence’ around the Law to keep its precepts from being violated.

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follow Jesus: a hymn

Music: “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)” by Chris Rice

 

Hear the call of Jesus
Stirring in your heart
A voice of love that calls to you today
So follow Jesus
Follow Jesus
Follow Jesus with love

In a land of plenty
Children cry in need
Stir up your love to feed them every day
So feed the hungry
Feed the hungry
Feed the hungry with love

Living without shelter
Lost and all alone
Stir up your love to house the homeless ones
So house the homeless
House the homeless
House the homeless with love

Standing on your doorstep
Not a friend in sight
Stir up your love to welcome strangers in
So welcome strangers
Welcome strangers
Welcome strangers with love

Listen to their voices
All around the world
Stir up your love to serve all those in need
Go serve the needy
Serve the needy
Serve the needy with love

Call upon this nation
Brothers, sisters all
Stir up your love for justice in our world
And work for justice
Work for justice
Work for justice with love

Go, follow Jesus
Follow Jesus
Follow Jesus with love

 

 

© 2015 Kurt Struckmeyer

For more background on this hymn see a previous post titled “writing new lyrics

a eucharistic prayer

The bread of life for all who hunger.
The cup of compassion for a broken world.

The Eucharistic prayer

L:         For the gentle power of love
in human life and history,
we give thanks and praise.

Long ago our ancestors knew love’s power
and they became the tellers of love’s tale.
Love bound them in covenant,
gathering them in community
with compassion and concern
for the poorest among them.

Yet centuries of domination and violence
shaped a different kind of community
based on selfishness and inequality,
and the lust for wealth and power.

In the struggle against oppression,
Jesus became the face of love,
showing us the way to abundant life.
In word and deed, he announced
love’s new reign of justice, reconciliation, and peace.
Filled with the courage and passion of love’s spirit,
he gave his life to challenge the unjust systems of this world.

On the night of his arrest,
as he shared a meal with his friends,
Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it,
and gave it to his followers, saying:
“Share this bread among you; this is my body, broken for justice.
Do this to remember me.” 

When supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks,
and gave it to his disciples, saying:
“Share this wine among you; this is my blood, shed for a better world.
Do this to remember me.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be nourished.”

God of love, spirit of compassion,
bless us and this bread and wine.
May this meal be food and drink for our journey—
renewing, strengthening, and sustaining us.

When we eat this bread and drink from this cup
we remember the life of Jesus
and dedicate our lives to his vision of a world
where all are fed with dignity and hope.

The table is ready. All are welcome. Come, for the feast is spread.

As the bread and wine are shared, these words are said:

The bread of life for all who hunger.
The cup of compassion for a broken world.

The blessing after the meal:

L:         May this meal nourish us and refresh us,
may it strengthen us and renew us,
may it unite us and keep us in God’s gracious love,
now and forever. Amen

L:         Let us pray.
God of love, we give you thanks for satisfying our hungry hearts with this meal.
Send us from here to reveal your love in the world.
Inspire in us the resolve and the courage, the compassion and the passion,
to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you. Amen

Dismissal:

L:         Go forth in service, remembering to fight, work, and pray
for those who suffer unjustly in our world.

 


Note:  Martin Luther wrote in 1519—

When you have partaken of this sacrament, therefore, or desire to partake of it, you must in turn share the misfortunes of the fellowship . . . all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. You must fight, work, pray and—if you cannot do more—have heartfelt sympathy.


 

© 2016 Kurt Struckmeyer

the wisdom of God

In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and God was the logos. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it.

—John 1:1–5 (NRSV translation)

When time began, the wisdom of God was there. In this wisdom was life and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness of the world, and the darkness cannot grasp it, nor extinguish it. . . Then the wisdom of God became a flesh-and-blood human being. And he parked his trailer in our neighborhood. We looked him in the face and that face reflected the light of God. . .  He gave us endless knowing and understanding of love and kindness and generosity. . . No one has actually seen God, but Jesus who is close to the heart of God has revealed God to us.

—A creative paraphrase of John 1:1, 5–6, 14, 16–18

Greek philosophers introduced the concept of logos (LOG-os) to the early Christian movement, familiarized to us by the prelude to John’s gospel. Although usually translated by Christians as “word,” logos is more accurately translated as “thought” or “reason.” Clarence Jordan translated it as “idea” in his “Cottonpatch” gospels. Perhaps “wisdom” is a better understanding.

Three centuries before Jesus, Stoic philosophers proposed that the logos symbolized the divine reason or creative intelligence that is implied in the order of the universe, giving it form and meaning. For them, humans possess a small portion of the divine logos that sets us apart from lower forms of life.

For the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (25 BCE–50 CE)—a contemporary of Jesus and Paul—the logos was seen as the approachable aspect of an inapproachable and incomprehensible God. Philo believed that one cannot communicate directly with God, but can come to know and understand God through the logos, a kind of intermediary being or spirit that provides insight into the mind of God and reveals God’s governing plan for the world.  For Paul, the logos of God replaced the Torah of God as the benchmark of religious understanding.
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the arms of love

I went to the funeral home last night
to see a friend whose life was entwined with mine.

Someone once told me
that if you want to know the truth about a person’s life,
go to their funeral.
Job, wealth, and possessions have no meaning.
Relationships and love are the only real measures
of one’s true worth.

The visitation is always a study in contrasts,
the living gathered around the dead,
the laughter amidst the grief and sorrow.
Photos of the past carefully displayed,
triggering memories of happier times.
Old friends meet again
reunited by relationships forged in youth.
We gather in community to say goodbye.

They say that she left us some time ago
lost in the arms of dementia.
Yet she died surrounded by those who loved her
in the warm embrace of her children.
And even though they may have seemed like strangers
she did not die alone.
She died in the arms of love.
And for that we are thankful.

 

 

© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer

be careful what you pray for

When we pray
come, Lord Jesus—

do we mean to say:
come, you malnourished stranger
come, you unwanted migrant
come, you ragged child
come, you crying crack baby
come, you dirty panhandler
come, you dying alcoholic
come, you addicted whore
come, you imprisoned gangbanger

Come, and join us.
Share our table.
Be our guest.

 

 

© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer

the kingdom is at hand

Music: “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” by Johann Sebastian Bach / “American Tune” by Paul Simon

 

A young man roams the city
With anger in his eyes.
His rage glows like an ember,
His soul is cold as ice.
And he knows he’s going nowhere,
And he knows he cannot win.
But still he cries at the darkened skies,
While the kingdom is at hand.

The widow makes her daily meal
Of stale toast and tea.
Her money gone, her days grow long,
And fill with memories.
She dreams of friends and family
Of the life that they had planned;
Shadows loom in the empty room
While the kingdom is at hand.

The young girl on the corner
Makes her living on the street.
In motels and bars she bears the scars
Of lovers and defeat.
Then getting stoned, she goes back home
With another faceless man.
Two empty lives drift through the night
While the kingdom is at hand.

The children cry from hunger
As their listless bodies lie
In rooms they share with vacant stares
And silent weeping eyes.
Their stunted minds and shunted lives
Are a curse upon the land.
The children’s tears fill up their years
While the kingdom is at hand.

To those who have no future,
To those who have no hope;
To those who know no kindness,
To those who grasp and grope;
To those whose lives are empty,
To those who need a friend;
The Word of Life has come to you
For the kingdom is at hand.

The Holy Spirit gathers
The lost and lonely ones.
She takes them from their darkness
And bathes them in the sun.
She sends her church into the world
To those whose lives are damned,
To live and die with the joyful cry
That the kingdom is at hand.

To every generation,
To every race and land;
In city or in country,
The kingdom is at hand.
The Lord is here among us,
His promises are true.
The kingdom lives forever,
The kingdom is in you!

Yes, the kingdom is in you.

 

© September 1976, Kurt Struckmeyer

prayer for discipleship

God of love,
source of mercy and compassion,
weave your dream for the world
into the fabric of our lives. 

Remove the scales from our eyes
and lift the indifference from our hearts,
so that we may see your vision –
a new reign of justice and compassion
that will renew the earth.

Transform our lives,
so that we may accomplish your purpose.

Anoint us with your spirit of love
that we might bring good news to the oppressed,
bind up the brokenhearted,
and proclaim release to the captive.

Give us a new urgency
and a new commitment
to feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
shelter the homeless,
and visit those who live in isolation.

Help us to reach out to those
whom no one else will touch,
to accept the unacceptable,
and to embrace the enemy.

Surround us with your love,
fill us with your grace,
and strengthen us for your service.

Empower us to respond to the call of Jesus –
to deny ourselves,
to take up our crosses,
and to follow.

Make us your disciples.

Amen

 

© 2010 Kurt Struckmeyer

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