Saturday, January 23, 2010

How Compassion Trumps Purity...

"Be Holy as I am Holy."

Thus sayeth the Lord ... and thus was the focus of the old covenant perspective. It was the "imatio deis" -- the way to imitate God. Be holy, in order to be like God.

May I say, this was a tough act to follow ...!

Enter Jesus ...

Reading the story of Jesus, especially if one is able to put aside the traditional lens, the two key components of Jesus' message was Spirit and compassion. These are His focal points. He lived in the Spirit, by the Spirit, through the Spirit ... He was a most Spirit-connected man (and it is this, I believe, that He was demonstrating, when He said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life ..." No one comes to (experiences) the Father but through the Spirit ... within).

But I'd like to focus on compassion ... because I think it's all too easy to bypass just how radical a concept compassion was, in the Jewish realm of the first century.

What do I mean by compassion? It means "with passion." To feel with another. Feeling what another person feels in a visceral manner ... way deeper than a head-level - to a "gut level". In fact, the Aramaic and Hebrew words for compassion are associated with "womb." A deep-seated physical place that symbolizes the source of life. For men, who are obviously lacking in a literal womb, the term "loins" or "bowels" is often used ... though scripture does refer to men, even God Himself, having a womb. It's not just something we feel -- but something that compels us to take action in how we live our lives, in relation to others. So, compassion is both a deep feeling, and a way of being that's rooted in a passionate-connection to others.

Compassion is, I believe, an expression of love. In that sense, compassion is the central quality of God. God's love for us is described as compassion ... and our love for one another is rooted in compassion. Compassion sums up the two great commandments, of loving God with all we've got, and loving others (all others) as ourselves.

And so, Jesus, who came to show us the Father, says to us, "Be compassionate as God is compassionate. Almost as if to overshadow, even to replace, the former concept of "being holy as God is holy."

Now, this is far more than mere semantics ... them thar were fightin' words to the Jewish-leadership elite! For the Jewish leaders, and their followers, purity was political.

The predominant image of God was of His holiness -- and holiness was thought to mean "be separate from all that is unclean." And there was a LOT considered to be unclean..! If you were so unfortunate to be born in a lower status (the hierarchy went: priest/Levites, Israelites, converts, bastards, those with defective gonads, women, Gentiles), you were impure (to varying degrees). Further, your behavior or profession, or even your physical condition, affected your purity ... the worst of which were the "outcasts" like shepherds, tax collectors, sinners, untouchables (included lepers), eunuchs, maimed, crippled, "unwhole" people, and menstruating women. Further, if you were poor, you were largely suspect -- as it was believed that riches were a blessing from God ... so you must've sinned in order to be poor, right? (sarcasm alert: SO glad we've evolved from that one!)

I mean, compassion didn't even enter the picture. People were blamed and shamed for their (unavoidable) impurity.

No wonder that they chaffed at Jesus, as He entered the scene, declaring that they were to be "compassionate as God is compassionate" ... which both echoed the "be holy as God is holy" standard, and yet transcended it, transformed it, and brought them up short in how far they were from living it. Jesus was overturning their entire way of life! He was boldly declaring that compassion, and not holiness, was the dominant quality of God...! Jesus was saying that true purity is a matter of the heart, not a matter of observing external boundaries.


Let's look at how He messed with their status quo:

- He hung out with sinners, untouchables, lepers, tax-gatherers, poor folks, marginalized folks, and (gasp! and they did gasp!) women..! HE even let a despicable and filthy/unclean menstruating woman touch Him...! Egads and Gadzooks!

- He ate with them ... to first century Jews, this was a radically inclusive act -- it implied utter acceptance of the human beings one chose to eat with. In doing this, Jesus' message was loud and clear (& oh-so-offensive to them!): He was demonstrating His intention for an all-inclusive community on earth.

- He intentionally encountered "unclean" humans and locations -- as if to say "there is no more standard of purity to observe." He healed the outcasts, touching dreaded lepers, encountering those with "unclean spirits," even entering a forbidden graveyard (Gentile at that), in the midst of pigs (unclean animals)...! WHAT a message! This wasn't a message about "how to do deliverance", but of the nothingness of the purity code! He was not afraid of cooties...

- Despite being surrounded by a highly patriarchal and misogynistic society, Jesus rejected the false notion that women were "nobodies." Jesus denounced social mores and interacted with women, even non-Jewish women, even in public. He called Mary a disciple, and encouraged her "forbidden" learning. He commended the faith (and wit!) of a Gentile woman. Women followed Him (& were the most loyal followers during His crucifixion). And a woman was chosen to be the first to "tell the good news" after His resurrection. His message was clear: this was to be a movement of equals.

- Just in case they were missing the point, Jesus directly informed the Jewish leader-elites that they were like "unmarked graves" -- by doing so, He was declaring them to be a source of true impurity (hidden impurity disguised with a squeaky-clean veneer, i.e., hypocrisy). His message was that purity is a matter of the inside, not the outside.

Jesus shattered the boundaries of His day ... and a heart-understanding of His teachings, coupled with an experiential awareness of the power of love, can shatter the boundaries of our day.

Does it strike you how the current Christian focus of sin, morality, performance, behavior and holiness, is more in keeping with the Jewish purity code, than with the radical teaching of Jesus?

We can all witness how purity divides and excludes, whereas compassion unites and includes. The message of Jesus, both then and now, is that the politics of purity has been replaced by the paradigm of compassion.

The elite of Jesus' day interpreted scripture through the lens of purity. Jesus interpreted scripture through the lens of compassion. These lenses were at odds.

The same perspective/lens divide happens among those who follow (or claim to follow) Jesus today. Some focus on holiness/purity as the "Christian life", with firm lines drawn between righteous and sinners (those "in" and those "out"). The sad and tragic irony is that those folks, most of whom are sincerely seeking to be faithful to scripture, end up highlighting the very parts of scripture that Jesus challenged and opposed! If we want to be faithful to the interpretation of scripture that Jesus taught, then we need to see scripture through the lens of compassion ... which is the Abundant Life.

Jesus shows us the Father. The Father IS Compassion. May we all experience, and thus *know* this...!

And thus, may we treat all others (& ourselves) with compassion.

Shalom, Dena


Mammal_Mama said...

Dena, thank you for reminding me of your blog!

Yes, compassion most definitely DOES trump purity.

Thank you for reminding me that this is what Jesus is all about.

claire said...

Once again you are right on.. This is my Jesus, your Jesus.. this is the good news..!!! I thank God for your gift to declare the good news in ways that we can truly understand.... You are such a blessing to me.
Thank you..

marianne said...

I know you are shocked to know that I am getting the same messages. Recently in a blog I wrote how the Dalai Lama (according to Wayne Dyer) had mentioned in a speech that if every child 5 and over was taught to meditate on compassion for only one hour a week, that we could rid the world of violence and war in one generation! As with most things, this can be broken down to a very do-able routine....10 minutes a day of focusing them on something compassionate...a book, a short discussion a movie....many ways to do it AND you touch the adults as well as the kids if you do stuff together ;-) You go girl.

Dena said...

Mammal-Mama - You're so very welcome -- thanks for coming by to schmooze! Isn't it astonishing how we can get so stinkin' caught up in the wrath-message...?!? Our ego thrives on that drama!

Claire - yes ma'am! This IS good news ... the goodnews for all mankind. Spread it on, Claire ... the world is starved for this...!

Marianne - We're getting the same message?!? ;) I'm SO woefully behind on your blog! Been trying to do art-stuff, birthday-stuff, and interfacing-with-fearful-folks stuff (the latter is SO wearying...!). I want to get this message to my kids ... it's astonishing to me how I can live it in front of them (yet perhaps not well?) and somehow, they're missing it..! It's like everyone's got to do the Prodigal-thing. Or, can we bypass that...? Sigh ... it's hard to teach this at home, and yet, if it ain't real at home, it ain't real...!

Needing to sit down with a few of my kids for a heart-to-heart.

marianne said...

Sometimes, Dena, I think the prodigal aspect is, in fact, necessary to create the kind of compassion that really understands. The "been there done that, I get it and understand and love you anyway. I know your life can be spectacular in spite of where you've been or maybe because of it" kind of compassion. God alone knows the path that each of our kids must take to be fully available and useful in this world. And it is often not the path we think they should take;-)
Hang in there Mom :-\ They are not missing a thing that you do or say...they just don't always want to admit it out loud!

Dena said...

Thanks, Marianne ... I hope that's true. Sometimes I wonder whether I'm too invested in goings-on outside my home, rather than specifically *teaching* these things inside the home. I send my older 3 kids my blog links ... no indication that they're reading (as my 20 yo daughter tells me, they're too busy with life, to read as much as I write, LOL!). I do try to live it (imperfectly to be *sure*!), to model it, rather than to create a lesson plan (gag me!).

But I wonder whether they're not missing quite a bit ... case in point: 2 or so years ago, while in a "house church" gathering in our home (which we no longer do), my teen son mentioned that "some people actually believe that all will be saved!" He was incredulous. Our neighbor looked at him in astonishment, and said, "How have you missed what your mother has been saying for the past year?!? Dena, you're not corrupting your own children well enough." We all laughed, but I had/have to wonder ...

Do we all have to go through a disillusioning transition? Or can it be done sooner in life, with fewer stakes involved? Dunno. I suppose it's the desire of all parents, and yet, even as you point out, if we don't *experience* the prodigal-story firsthand, can we ever truly develop compassion and empathy? Can we ever thus truly experience the Father-heart of God, unless we've fallen to the point of believing the lie that we're thus "worthless"?

I've certainly come to believe that being bulimic for 21 years was, for me, "what it took" to bring me to the place where I could receive truth. I had, apparently, to experience the full insanity of the lies I (even unknowingly) believed. It's part of my journey ... and I no longer regret any of it. If it had happened sooner, would I be me? Or would I be a "shallower" version of me? Do we get our depth from experiencing, and rising out of, the deep places of pain? Would I even *want* a short-cut? Did my innate desire for a "real & authentic life" (my earliest memories, even if non-verbal) *require* than I endure what I endured, so that I would be saved from a life of conventional wisdom..?

Are we all destined to be surface/unconscious/stupid for the first half of our lives, so that we *can* wake up, after experiencing the rude consequences of al that surfacy, unconscious stupidity...?

So many questions ... reminds me of the movies that come with "alternate endings".

So, do I want to "save" my children from 'whatever it takes', and in doing so, am I wishing that they live "normal and average" lives of convention?!? Egads, no! Sigh ... I guess I've answered my own question.

STILL I see them experiencing the angst of the striving-system, the false self-perception caught up in "what others think" ... and the ego-exploits that envisions life as win/lose rather than win/win.

I guess I wonder, too ... will the world always be as it is...? Rather than improving on a grand-scale, are we destined to having to learn, and re-learn these same old lessons in each and every generation? Does this mean that there cannot be a global-shift of some sort?

And yet (yet-yet-yet!) will we not soon self-destruct if we do not wake up...?

Ahhhhh, questions, questions, questions. Where *did* that alternate-ending DVD from God go...? Where did I put it???

(sheesh, this should've been a blog-post, rather than a comment, LOL!)

marianne said...

Lol....Dena you are a riot! Once, exasperated, I said to my youngest son (who is now 27) "If you would just LISTEN to me, your life would be so much easier!" Straight faced and totally serious, he replied, "But Mom, that's just not the way I am." sigh....and so it goes...he will be a parent too one day ;-)

Dena said...

Oh, I have SO said that...!

(& it's true!)

(& he's right!)