Tuesday, June 4, 2013

...and he was moved with Compassion

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) considers the time between Pentecost Sunday and the first Sunday in Advent as Ordinary Time.  Yet, our readings in Luke’s Gospels for both last week and this week, (Luke 7: 11-17) depict events that must be considered anything but ordinary. According to Thomas Keating, Ordinary Time is a time in our church calendar during which “chronological and eternal time intersects in the mystery of the present moment and become one” (The Mystery of Christ). And so, this week’s story, while remarkable in and of itself, goes far beyond a dramatic restoration of life and underscores Jesus’ ministry: we express our love for God when we have love and compassion for one another.

Compassion is a particularly important word in our Gospel in which we read of Jesus being moved with compassion. Marcus Borg tells us that compassion represents the summation of Jesus’ teaching about both God and ethics. “For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God. Moreover, for Jesus compassion was not simply an individual virtue, but a sociopolitical paradigm expressing  his alternative vision of human life in community, a vision of life embodied in the community that came into existence around him” (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).

So how does this story fit with Borg’s paradigm? In this story Jesus restored more than the life of the young man; he restored the life of the widow, a woman with no "voice" of her own, who, at the lowest rung of society’s ladder, was destined to live out her life in, at the very least, misery.  This is a story in which her community, dominated by men, walk beside her in her time of need.  This is a story in which Jesus, in asking the widow not to cry, does so not to calm her emotional state, but rather to transform life: hers, her son’s, the community, and ours.

Jesus was intent on challenging the vision of God as being one that was centered in holiness, and beyond our reach, to one that is centered in compassion and lives with us in our midst. Says Borg, “As a mother loves the children of her womb, so God loves us and feels for us. In its sense of ‘like a womb,’ compassionate has nuances of giving life, nourishing, caring, perhaps embracing and encompassing. For Jesus this is what God is like.”



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