April 19, 2020
Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes (Matthew 20:34).
Last Sunday my mom and I were driving to Cortez to see a friend in need. Just past the west side of Mesa Verde hill, we saw a barefoot woman running hysterically down the shoulder of Highway 160. She was crying and flailing her arms in the air. She stumbled and weaved as she ran, pure terror. A car was parked behind her and I thought she might be running for her life from whomever was in the car.
My stomach tightened in a ball and I gripped the steering wheel harder. What should I do? I turned to my 81-year old mom and asked, “Do you think we should stop? And, if we do stop should we give her a ride if she needs one?” I was not for sure, but intuitively I thought she was fleeing a domestic violence situation. The parked car behind her concerned me. Her life could be at risk and if we stopped our lives could be at risk. We could call 911 but by the time help arrived it might be too late. And, I had concerns about the coronavirus as well. Would we want a frantic, barefoot stranger riding in our car?
What was our best response?
Many of the stories of Jesus tell about him being moved with compassion. Marcus Borg in his transformative book, “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” says, “For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God.” Compassion is feeling the suffering or the pain of someone else and being moved by that suffering to do something. “To be compassionate is to feel as God feels and to act as God acts in a life-giving, nourishing,” and generative way. Frank Rogers says compassion is the heartbeat of humanity that restores life, and Jewish rabbis and scholars believe the ethic of compassion is the essence of the Torah.
Jesus lived compassion. He touched the lepers and the blind. The hungry moved him with compassion. Jesus drew close and healed the man with unclean spirits. He forgave the thief on the cross. He listened intently to the woman at the well.
Each act of compassion healed and restored, and each act of compassion came with a cost. Borg states, “For Jesus, compassion was more than an individual virtue: it was a social paradigm, the core value for life in community. Compassion for Jesus was political.” Jesus touched, healed, and cared for individuals and groups of people that the dominant political structure/society deemed unworthy or impure.
Many of our elderly in nursing homes have died from the coronavirus. People of color are dying in disproportionate numbers from the coronavirus. The Navajo Nation is being hit hard by the virus. How do our federal and state governments respond to these vulnerable populations? How do we respond? For Jesus compassion was not just an individual virtue it was political. Christ practiced a “politics of compassion” which challenged the status quo and expanded empathy.
To put it bluntly, with the politics (compassion) of Jesus, there would not be a shortage of testing, hospital beds, ventilators, or protective gear. The vulnerable populations would not be overlooked. Jesus was moved with compassion. It is the central quality of our faith and it is a challenge.
And, I wondered…should we stop and help this barefoot woman in distress? The best answer is probably different for all of us. If I had children or a sick person with me in the car, my response would have been different. We struggle to be compassionate in our lives. It is risky.
During this Easter season within the pandemic, may a wellspring of compassion rise-up within us to heal, to forgive, and to restore life. May we offer kindness to friends and strangers. May we smile and cry. May we walk in humility instead of self-righteousness. May we embrace the heartbeat of God which is compassion.
Blessings and peace,