I know everyone is passionate about what is going on in the country right now. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for people to be concerned about the direction we are heading, and emotions on all fronts are understandably close to the surface, which makes it really hard for us to listen to each other. But for a moment, I’d like to talk to the Americans who call themselves Christians. Everyone else, of course, is welcome to read on, but I’m specifically directing this towards those who strive to be Christ-like.
First of all, no one is perfectly Christ-like. That is simply unattainable. But if we are going to call ourselves by his name, that should be our aim. It is what we should strive for, and we should always be pressing towards that goal, to get as close as we are able.
There are a lot of words that you could use to describe Jesus’ three-year ministry on Earth. But the aspect of his character that always seems to shout the loudest to me is: compassion. Indeed, it is compassion that brought him to Earth in the first place. But almost every interaction that you see between Jesus and nearly everyone he came in contact with (perhaps with the exception of the religious rulers) was dominated by compassion. Here are just a few examples (in no particular order):
The (Samaritan) woman at the well, John 4:4-26
Even though she was a “half-breed” Samaritan who would have been rejected by many of the Jews of her day, Jesus was not reluctant to associate with her, listen to her, and offer her a chance to accept him as the Messiah (who most Jews felt was exclusively for them)
The woman with twelve years of constant bleeding, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48
This woman had exhausted every penny she had going to doctors for healing and had found none, for twelve long years. We don’t know if she was in a lot of pain (although many of the conditions that cause constant menstrual bleeding are quite painful), but we do know that because of the restrictions on cleanliness there would have been many social and religious aspects of life she would have been excluded from.
The feeding of the multitudes (two events), Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15; and Matthew 15:32-16:10, Mark 8:1-9
Jesus and the disciples were exhausted. A seemingly never-ending stream of people with physical and spiritual needs had left them with no time to rest, relax, and restore themselves. In fact, the “feeding of the 5000” was right after they found out about John the Baptist’s murder. They hadn’t even really had time to mourn. But when the disciples wanted to send the crowds away, Jesus instead asked what they had to offer the hungry masses. He blessed it into enough not only for the crowd at that moment, but enough to send them home with leftovers.
The children who came to him, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17
Again, these guys are wiped out. The crowds were pretty much constant at this point, and the wear on the disciples was beginning to show in their crabbiness as they tried to shoo away the children and the parents who tried to bring them to Jesus. But Jesus urged them to allow the children to come to him.
Mary and Martha (when their brother Lazarus was dead), John 11
There are tons of commentaries on this passage and the background of this family’s relationship with Jesus, and I am no scholar. The point I’m trying to make here is that he cared very deeply about this family, and his compassion moved him not only to tears, but to action.
Even on the cross, he was more focused on his compassion for others than on his own suffering:
Praying for forgiveness for those who were carrying out the orders to crucify him (Luke 23:34)
Assuring the thief on the cross next to him that he would join him in paradise (Luke 23:43)
Bidding his mother and Peter to care for one another as mother and son after he was gone (John 19:25-27).
Why am I prattling on about this? Because I believe that if we are going to label ourselves with his name, then this profoundly fundamental aspect of his character should be something that we are continually working towards. But what exactly does that look like in our current society?
I believe it looks like this:
Whenever we have an opportunity to ease another person’s suffering, we should do whatever we can to do so. Close to home, this may mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, supporting ministries that provide shelter for the homeless, medical and mental health care, sanctuary for abused spouses and children, etc. As we expand our outreach to those beyond our borders, I believe it should include humanitarian aid to victims of natural disasters, war, famine, etc. We should offer what we have to give to relieve the suffering of refugees, immigrants, and the like. Christ didn’t say only to care for those who believe as you do, or behave as you wish them to. In fact, he said exactly the opposite:
Luke 6:27-36 New International Version (NIV)
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
The crux of this passage is that we (as Christians) should never sacrifice compassion for the sake of comfort. We should be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of compassion. Yes, that means temporarily sacrificing our physical comfort in order to give our coat to someone who needs it, but I think it also includes something else. I think we are FAR too unwilling to sacrifice our psychological comfort for the sake of compassion. Follow me down this path for a moment, and maybe I can explain what I mean. If seeing a homosexual couple makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of interacting with that couple in a compassionate and loving way? If the Black Lives Matter movement makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of maintaining a dialogue, coming together in a spirit of reconciliation, and a true desire to right the undeniable wrongs that continue to be an issue? If the militarization of the police force makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to maintain a dialogue with them, addressing their very real fear for their safety, and the changes that need to be made in selecting and training our police force? If the Women’s March made you uncomfortable, can you sacrifice your comfort for the sake of reaching out to minister to the needs of those women, instead of calling names, labeling, or dismissing them?
Now, I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn between the expected actions of an individual, and the prudent actions of a nation. But I do know that Christ did not call us as individuals to act out of fear, or greed, or entitlement, or paranoia, or anger, or retribution. If we are attempting to follow him, we should be acting out of compassion. And while I do not believe that a nation can be “Christian” (I believe that is a title that can only be assigned to individuals who have made that choice for themselves), if we would like to claim that we are a nation that is led by at least some fraction of Christian individuals, the decisions they are making should at least in some measure reflect compassion, even when difficult decisions have to be balanced with other concerns.
Obviously my sphere of influence doesn’t include our nation’s leaders. But if you’ve read through this far, maybe I can encourage you. Don’t let fear make decisions for you. God’s love is perfect, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18; note that it is in present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process–it continues to drive out fear, not that it drove out fear once and for all). Let us not belligerently withhold desperately needed aid in the name of self-protection, or nationalism, or entitlement. We are one of the richest countries in the world, in so many ways. We should be sharing that abundance. Do we have needy within our own borders? Absolutely. But we are blessed with such abundance that this should never have been an either/or discussion–we should be doing what we can to help both our fellow Americans in need AND our fellow human beings in need around the world.
Is there a way that you, personally, can sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of compassion?