(Lead me Lord,) that I may cultivate a compassionate heart.
My favorite singer-songwriter, David Wilcox, has a song which begins, “I know that compassion is all out of fashion and anger is all the rage. . .” It is sadly true that anger and rage keeps many of us separated from one another into ideological camps of partisanship on both the left and the right. Compassion is a virtue that is in short supply. It is even sadder to realize that the refusal to acknowledge and enter into the suffering of others (particularly of our enemies) betrays the deep level of hypocrisy of people of faith.
The God we worship and say we follow is a God who relates to creation in willing vulnerability. The inevitable emotional pain that is experienced in the life of God results from his committed relationship with his rebellious creatures. Scripture paints a vivid picture of this suffering God throughout its pages (see Gen. 6:5-6; Hos. 9:15; 11:8-9; Isa. 49:15; 63:9, 15; 66:13; Jer. 18:7-10; 31:20; Pss. 78:40-41, 58-59; 103:13; 1Cor 1:18-25; 1Pet 2:24; Mat 17:12; Luk 22:15; Rom 8:17; et cetera). The very word “compassion” derives from “com” = with “passion” = suffering. To have compassion is to suffer with those toward who we have compassion.
Compassion is not, however, the spontaneous response we typically feel to pain and discomfort. We run away, or at least turn away rather than entering into the suffering. And yet, how are we to know this God who suffers for our sake, if we are unwilling to suffer along with God as we work for the redemption of all things? As uncomfortable as it is and as tempting as it may be to deny the suffering, or to avoid being entangled in the suffering of others, it is clear that we will not make any significant progress on the journey of our discipleship until we accept that our faith is more about cultivating compassion than it is about escaping the troubles of this world through some self-serving and comfortable salvation. The apostle Paul writes:
[Romans 8:14-17 NRSV] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
We are children of God and “joint heirs with Christ — if in fact, we suffer with him…” It is hard to imagine it lined out any more plainly than that. And yet, ours is an age in which the gospel of our Lord has been misshapen to serve the goals not of suffering with those who suffer, but to the accumulation of more and more wealth and influence. The so called “prosperity gospel” which can be heard nearly any Sunday from some pulpits would have us believe that our faith insures us against troubles and assures us of prosperity and wealth.
Pilgrims on the way to the events of Jesus’ suffering in Holy Week, pray “Lead me Lord so that I may cultivate a compassionate heart.” We hope to enter fully into the troubles that befall our Lord, to know of his suffering in the depths of our being, and we pray for the courage to not deny him, not run away from his suffering, and to remain among those who may be glorified precisely because we are willing to reject anger and rage and instead show compassion in a hurting world.
Daily Collect: God whose foolishness is stronger than human wisdom, and whose weakness is stronger than human strength; you keep surprising us — by arriving in the vulnerability of an infant born to peasants in a backwater district of the empire — by living the precarious life of a wandering preacher — by eating with outcasts — your way led you inevitably to suffering and that surprises us as much as it did the initial disciples. Help us, Lord, to cultivate a heart of compassion like yours — a heart that leads us to engage in ministry with and for those who suffer. We pray this in the name of the one by whose wounds we are healed. Amen.