Radical Christ 17 – Compassion Takes Guts

Ram Dass spoke eloquently of developing a spiritual practice that enables you to keep your heart open in hell. Mahayana Buddhists have the notion of Bodhisattvas, enlightened being who after countless rebirths are ready to enter into the bliss of Nirvana, but who vow not to cross over until they have assisted all sentient beings, to cross over before them.

Once in conversation with a Zen monk, and referencing the Boddhisattva concept, the monk smiled at me and replied, “Yes, but Jesus also was a great Boddhisattva.” In that moment my entire life changed as I realised we are all just ‘walking each other home’, another Ram Dass saying.

Compassion lies at the heart of all spiritual practice, in fact is the absolute validation of our journey. If my journey, religion and practice does not increase my compassion, what’s the point. If my religion makes me cruel, fearful and judgemental what’s the point?

This episode explores the way Jesus experienced compassion and unpacks some of his crazy wisdom that enabled his to say to marginalised and dispossessed people that they were “Blessed”.

This isn’t what you may think.

Karl Marx misread this ascpect and called releigion “an opiate”. He was wrong, It isn’t opium, correctly understood this crazy wisdom is dynamite!

Links:

Bodhisattva Vows

Ram Dass – Keeping your Heart open in Hell

Fully-Filled Epiphany – 3C

Luke 4:14-21
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Some time ago now, I was in conversation with a a lady who expressed concern about her adult son. “It is so sad”, she reflected,”that my son hasn’t accepted Christ.”

“I hear your concern.”, I replied,”But isn’t it wonderful that Christ has accepted your son?”

This conversation once again highlighted, for me, just how ego-centric and individualistic our culture has become. Right to the point where salvation is seen no longer as a work of God’s amazing grace, but is something that we do and achieve by our decisions and actions.

Jesus comes to his home town of Nazareth. To socio-politically oppressed people, poor people. Dare I say, desperate people?  If salvation was something they could do, something they could decide to accept by an executive decision, don’t you think they would have done it as quickly as you can say Roman Empire?

The fact that they didn’t, is all because they couldn’t.
If you have ever been lost, oppressed, abused, depressed, hopeless, you will know the impotence of not being able to change anything by an executive decision of your choice. No plan, no strategy, no act of will can save you in those moments.

That is what makes this one-liner sermon of Jesus so powerful.

Jesus, in his home synagogue,  is given the scroll of Isaiah to read from.  He  is no doubt, expected to teach from the passage and expound in great rabbinic tradition, the meaning of the words he has read. The people are expectant. Luke tells us, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone”. The expectation in the synagogue is palpable.

What powerful words he has to expound from:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This text would be a Liberation Theologian’s dream. Words of exhortation to revolt and resistance spring easily to mind.
It is an Evangelical’s dream text. Words of of invitation to make a decision for Christ and cast off the shackles of sin flood this preacher’s imagination.
It is a text tailor made for a Faith Healer’s sermon. “Oooooh Jeeeesuhs, I know you are telling me right now that there is someone here this morning who is blind and who want’s to see! Come forward, my sister, my brother, Jeeeesuhs want’s to heal you!”
There probably isn’t a genre of preaching that could not mine this text to profound and dramatic effect.

But the home-boy Rabbi applies none of these techniques.
With every expectant eye rivetted upon him he sits down!
And then in a simple one liner says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is almost as if he has run out of steam. In my imagination I hear those words not shouted or ranted, but almost whispered, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Our parents in the church who set up the lectionary were very skillful to break Luke’s record at this point. Next week we will pick up the thread and see the reaction of the congregation to this one sentence sermon, but for now, we are left to allow those nine words to sink slowly into our contemplation.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In a world where I have been told that is all depends on me, my actions, my strategies, my plans, my decisions; to be confronted with the fact that there is nothing to DO is a conundrum.

The word that is translated, “fulfilled” means exactly that, “filled to the full” Pleroo is defined as: to make replete, that is, (literally) to cram a net, level up a hollow, (hints of John the Baptizer’s valley filling sermon here). It is a word that describes complete accomplishment.
There is nothing for me to do here, and it drives my Western activist mind nuts!

This is why I am so grateful for the blessed times I have spent in dialogue and practice with my spiritual siblings from the religions of the East.  Hindu and Buddhist alike have a rich tradition of contemplation that invites the practitioner to simply “Be here now” in the phrase of Ram Dass.
A practice that does not rush to change what it has not yet fully understood, a practice that sees the perfection of the lotus flower growing in the pond of raw sewage.
It is a  practice that makes me understand Jesus far better and enables me to make more sense of that nine word sermon. As I become still, I know… that God is… Good News.
The good news is that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,” that there is “good news for the poor,release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. There is good news that the oppressed are free, and this is the year of the Lord’s favour.

This reality already exists right here right now, if I will only stop trying to recreate and relocate all the world to a place where they all resemble my culture, my creed and my economy.
Living in Africa and having spent time in India, I have seen and every now and then realised=(made real):…

  • the perfection of the poor unfairly made poor,
  • the freedom of prisoners unjustly imprisoned,
  • the deep inner sight of the alleged blind whose vistas are bleak and dark,

and I have realized that the scripture has already been fulfilled.

This does not mean no action, but it does mean no cultural imperialism.
This does not mean no compassion, but it does mean no whimsical feelings without my being there with and alongside those who are before me (the COM in compassion means “with”)

It means realizing, recognizing, accepting, that the one who reads the scroll, knows what he is doing,and so will I, if I stay close to HIM.