Tag: compassion

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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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

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

doxology for humanity

Music: Old Hundredth / “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”

 

Praise life that makes us change and grow
Praise love that makes compassion flow
Praise peace that ends all strife and fear
Praise hands that work for justice here

Praise ears that hear the children’s cries
Praise truth that counters cruel lies
Praise hearts that value human worth
Praise lives that build a better earth

Praise eyes that see all human need
Praise minds that cast out selfish greed
Praise lips that challenge those in power
Praise those who struggle every hour

Praise faith that keeps us ever strong
Praise hope that triumphs over wrong
Praise dreams that make our spirits rise
Praise voices raised in joyful cries

 

 

© 2013  Kurt Struckmeyer

a creed of love

I believe in the hidden God of love:
the spirit of love and compassion
found at the breadth and depth
of every human life.

I believe in the vision of Jesus:
the reigning of God on earth,
found where people and societies
are governed by the rule of love.

I believe in the way of Jesus:
a love for God and neighbor,
a love for stranger and enemy,
a love for outcast and alien.

I believe in the abundant life of Jesus:
a life of acceptance, inclusion, and forgiveness,
a life of equality, generosity, and sharing,
a life of compassion, service, and nonviolence.

I believe that Jesus modeled the godly life:
healing the sick and serving the poor,
seeking dignity and equality for all people,
and calling for shared wealth and economic justice.
For this he was condemned and crucified
by those who serve the forces of domination
in every time and place.

I believe that though he died,
the spirit of Jesus lives on
among those who strive for peace and justice
and who work to create a better world.

In the name of Jesus,
and in the name of love,
I commit myself to care for others,
to break down the barriers that separate us,
and to seek justice and peace in the world.

Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer

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