Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Guts and Compassion

In Matthew’s Gospel there is the story of the feeding of the 5,000. It begins with a statement about what motivates Jesus. It says in Matthew 14:14 that when Jesus saw the crowd, “he had compassion for them…” He cured their sick and he feed them simply because he had compassion for them.

The word that is translated as compassion literally means, being moved in the belly. Some scholars think that its literal meaning goes even deeper, that it means, being moved in the bowel. Compassion works in two ways. First, it grows from a place deep within us that knows, as if from a sixth sense what someone else feels (in this case, what it feels like to be sick and hungry). Secondly, it requires action, a decision of the will, to do what is right (in this case, to heal the sick and feed the hungry).

It is easy to get the feeling that everything Jesus does is motivated by his compassion, by his ability to feel for the people he meets and to choose to act to change the situation causing pain. Perhaps, Jesus going to Jerusalem was not a marching towards his own death and much as he was motivated by his compassion to go to that place that represented the deepest pain of the people.

This month, on January 17, 24 and 31 we will focus on the Charter for Compassion, an international movement to bring the idea of compassion into every aspect of human experience. At the core of every major religion and philosophical school of thought is some version of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Let’s make this rule the central motivator for every decision humans make – personally or corporately.


Tom White-Hassler said...

Years ago I read somewhere that although the general sentiment of the Golden Rule shows up in virtually every culture, that sometimes it is active, as in the Christian "Do unto others . . .", and in others it is passive, e.g., "Do not unto others . . .". To me this is a subtle but significant difference. I think it warrants unpacking.

John Clarke said...

Thanks Tom for the observation… I used to think of the two versions of the Golden Rule (Do unto others and Do not do unto others) as the same thing. But, the first one has to do with committing acts of kindness and the second has to do with not doing unkind things. If the second is passive, it is only so in the most active way possible… it takes courage and strength not to strike back, for example.

Tom White-Hassler said...

I agree about courage to not do certain things.
I've always understood "Word" as found in John's Gospel ["In the beginning was the Word . . ."] as being a verb, not a noun. And I further parsed that as an active verb. So in my Christian walk I have always felt called to actions, to be present in each moment to what the Spirit points out needs doing. If I took the passive verb path I could conceivably just curl up in a hidey-hole like a cat and let the world go by. To me, "It's About The World" is a call to the active verb Word, to actively/proactively love.
But this is not an either/or situation; both/and can work here.

John Clarke said...

I agree Tom - I think the point Armstrong makes is that they aren't the same thing, but that both are necessary.