Saturday, November 26, 2016

politics of compassion

Where is Jesus? Where might you meet him in a new way this Advent season?

Jesus, Marcus Borg tells us, practiced a politics of compassion. (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, 1994) That is, his actions proclaimed a reign of God based on feeling for, and feeling with, others. It was not isolated, private piety - spirituality without religion - it was a belief system centered in the compassion of God.

Be compassionate just as your Father in heaven is compassionate. (Luke 6:36)

Jesus, seeing a man with an affliction, was moved with compassion. In his own guts he felt the other’s need.

This is in contrast to the prevailing establishment and alternative politics of the day. Sadducees and Temple authorities, Pharisees and Essene communities, operated within a purity system. Your goal, in this life and for the next, was to be pure.

Purer than tax collectors, sinners and the like: women, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, … the ill … the blind …

Compare that attitude to:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18)

“Where were you when we welcomed you?” (Matthew 25:40)

Jesus breaks the rules - of the purity regime.

He touches, and heals, lepers, the blind, a woman having an issue of blood (Luke 8:43), … even the dead. (Talitha koum.” Mark 5:41)

Jesus in his day practice a politics of compassion over against the purity system. He broke down the walls of us/them. (see Jonathan Sacks, Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence, 2015) He found common ground on the hill - of Golgotha. He welcomed - the stranger (cf. Teresa of Calcutta), he stood up for the oppressed (cf. Janani Luwum), he embraced and succoured the ill (cf. Francis of Assisi), and he led his followers in a great feast, a thanksgiving meal for all comers (that we celebrate weekly as the Eucharist).

When Jesus healed someone, he healed them and he also performed a symbolic, subversive act, overturning the dominant paradigm. So in our day how can we act and move, practically and symbolically, to proclaim the true reign of peace that is already come into being and yet is not forcing its way upon people. How can we establish outposts of compassion in an indifferent world?

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