Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Speaking of Compassion

A Reading from Hosea (5:15–6:6)

The Lord said, “I will go back to my place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face. In their suffering they will make haste to seek me: ‘Come! Let us return to God – the One who has torn us asunder will make us whole; the One who struck us down will bind our wounds. In two days, God will bring us back to life and on the third day God will restore us so we will live in the presence of the Most High.

Let us come to know God intimately, and pursue that knowledge zealously. And as sure as the sun rises in the morning, God will come, and will return to us like the rains of winter, like the rains of spring that water the earth.’ Oh Ephraim, what am I going to do with you? And Judah, what am I going to do with you? Your devotion is like the morning fog, like the dew of the morning that vanishes! So I hack them to pieces through my prophets and slay them with the words of my mouth. My judgments flash like lightning before you.

For I desire kindness toward others, not sacrifice, acknowledgement of God, not burnt offerings.”

PSALM 50:7–15
Hear, O my people, and I will speak!
Hear, O Israel, and I will testify against you! I am God – your God.

I do not fault you for your sacrifices – on the contrary,
your burnt offerings are always before me.

It is just that I do not need oxen from your stall or goats from your folds,
since every beast of the forest is mine already; I have cattle on a thousand hills!

I know every bird in the mountains, and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.

Do I eat the flesh of oxen, or drink the blood of goats?
Offer me a sacrifice of thanksgiving instead, and fulfill the vow you make to me!

Then call upon me in the day of trouble – I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”


Matthew (9:9–13)

As Jesus was walking along, he saw Matthew, a tax collector, at his post. Jesus approached and said, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed. Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and notorious “sinners” came to join Jesus and the disciples at dinner.

The Pharisees saw this and complained to the disciples, saying, “What reason can the Teacher have for eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Overhearing the remark, Jesus said, “People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire compassion, not sacrifices.’ I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

First Hosea: "I desire kindness towards others, not sacrifice ..."

Then the Psalmist: "Offer me a sacrifice of thanksgiving ..."

Finally, Jesus with his "third time is the charm/what-part-of-be-good-to-each-other-don't-you-get words from Matthew's Gospel: "Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire compassion, not sacrifices.’"
I hear these lessons for Sunday in conversation with last week's Gospel -- again from Matthew:
Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the sage who built a house on rock. When the rainy season set in, the torrents came and the winds blew and buffeted the house. It did not collapse because it had been set solidly on rock. Anyone who hears my words but does not put them into practice is like the fool who built a house on sandy ground. The rains fell, the torrents came, the winds blew and lashed against the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”
"Anyone who hears my words and does not put them into action ..."
There it is -- it isn't just about feeling compassionate -- it's about acting with compassion. That is the rock we build our house on -- the one that will withstand the torrents and the winds -- the conventions and the conferences -- the resolutions and the referendums. Even the bloggers and the pundits.
Maybe it is because of the shrill, mean-spiritedness of so much of what passes for public discourse these days that these lessons speak so much to me this week.
What church meeting did I miss that made being Dogma Obedient more important than being Gospel Compliant? When did tearing down a candidate do anything to build up a nation? And what drives those who sit coiled to strike like poison snakes with blog comments that tear apart and break down those who differ with them on websites that purport to represent "traditional values?"
No wonder Jesus wept.
To paraphrase Hosea: "For I desire kindness toward others, not sacrifice, acknowledgement of God, not flaming blog posts.”
Yes, there's room for difference, for disagreement, for PASSIONATE DEBATE even -- but when we lose sight of our call to compassion -- of the reality that the person we most disagree with -- the one who most vilifies us -- is as beloved a child of God as we are -- then no matter how orthodox our theology or rubrically correct our liturgy or adamantly adhered to our polity we're in the same boat as those with the oxen and goats and burnt offerings going nowhere.
And that's not a boat I want to be in.


Bruno said...


Unknown said...

Susan, I want to thank you for all that you do to spread the Good News that Jesus came for us all. Often times I wonder if some alleged minister are more like the Pharisees that Matthew spoke of in Chapter 23 then Jesus who came to proclaim-The Good News and the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

13. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.[c]

23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.