Pastoral Ponderings: Love, compassion and caring for others

When loving your neighbour as yourself becomes forgotten

Robin King

Pastoral Ponderings

Of course it’s more complicated than it appears.

Like everyone else, I’ve been reading the stories of what’s happening with our neighbours to the south. I know, there’s so much, I should be more specific. Just this moment, I’m thinking of families crossing into the US illegally being separated at the border, banning immigrants from certain countries, scaling back welfare programs and cutting health care for the poor. And now, playing hard ball with friends and allies while engaging those who, for good reason, haven’t been.

Wait, don’t stop reading – this isn’t about politics. Well, it is, in a way, I suppose, but give me a minute, please, while I wade into some murky waters.

Sorry that list so quickly became more general than specific. And those things are happening in more places than the US, they just make the most media headlines. Here, too, these issues come again and again because safety and security, financial stability, comfort and standard of living are important to the well-being of any community, local, national or global. And these issues are complicated, diverse and interconnected. Even when we seem to do well at balancing things, no system is fool proof. Good thing we have politicians and lawyers to sort things out for us.

Perhaps fool proof is a bad choice of words.

Maybe that’s an unkind thing to say, but I mean it in the truest sense of being unwise. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s foolishness or it’s calculated and I’d rather hope for foolishness.

See, my real concern is the use of God and The Bible to justify actions of the government and the apparent willingness of some religious institutions to not only back those actions, but to suggest that certain governments and politicians may be “ordained by God.” They’re entitled to their opinion, of course, and I have one, too.

Recently, for example, the US Attorney General cited a verse from Paul’s Letter to the Romans to support the manner in which illegal immigrants to the US were being treated. The single verse he cited calls for everyone to obey the law and the government because they are established by God. Fair enough, but it doesn’t take wise theologians or even a late night talk show host who taught Sunday school to see the flaw in quoting one verse out of context. A few verses later, Paul also writes that all the laws “are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13: 10)

There’s a pile more wrong with that particular incident and wiser people than I have already had there say. What I’d like to say about it is that it’s a piece of a larger and more widespread problem: an absence of love and compassion.

There’s a beautiful story within a story in Mark when Jesus meets a crowd of people, just as he steps out of a boat. In that crowd is a man, Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He would have been of high standing in the community, perhaps even wealthy, certainly educated and respected. His daughter is ill, so he asks Jesus to come heal her. Jesus heads there right away, but, on the way, being something of a celebrity now, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people. In that crowd is a woman who has been ill for many years. Her illness cost her all she had financially, spent on doctors, and her standing in the community, because she would be considered “unclean” and an outcast. She believes that if she could just touch Jesus she would be healed. She does and she is, but Jesus notices. In all that crowd, he notices what she has “taken” from him. So he stops and demands to know who did that. She fearfully confesses and he tells her “your faith has healed you.”

In the meantime, someone has come from Jairus’ house to say that his daughter has died. Jairus gives up, but Jesus tells him “don’t be afraid. Believe.” Jesus goes to the house and tells the daughter to get up. She does and is restored to health and her family. Jesus even calls for someone to bring her food.

There’s so much in those intertwined stories, but overarching them both is Jesus’ love and compassion. The easily ignored woman – no one saw her in the crowd – poor, outcast and forgotten, is worthy of the same compassion as the daughter of a community leader. Both come in desperation, even fear, and they are each, equally, answered with healing.

Imagine how differently we’d be hearing the stories we’re currently hearing if they all began with love as the fulfillment of the law. Imagine if compassion, grace and respect were offered, rather than fear and force. Imagine if our attitude didn’t instil fear, but offered hope.

Then, maybe, we could say that we are truly followers of Jesus.

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