Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Test of Our Faith: Compassion

The Matthew 25 Pledge

I recently posted these words on all my social media platforms: "No demonizing, condemning or spreading ridiculous posts! I pledge to defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus."  This is pledge right out of the words of Matthew 25.  "Then (the king) will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ ( Matthew 25:45 NRSV) The pledge is part of a national movement led by well known Christian leader Jim Wallis.

Normally my non-conformist streak leads me to be cautious about signing on to such things.   It was encouraging to see friends who espouse both conservative and liberal views respond favorably. This one however should be a no-brainer, because it conforms directly to the teaching of Christ in the Bible.   Honestly, I pray that the Spirit can give me the strength to live up to this pledge, because if we take the words of Mathew 25 at face value they are nothing less than the supreme test of our faith.

A Clear Message

It is not my place to figure out whether or not any one of us measures up, however it is my calling to remind you of what the standard set by Jesus actually is: it is quite clear: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36 NRSV) Compassion that leads to physical and tangible acts of assistance to the vulnerable and rejected is the norm for expressing our faith.

I remember in college I had a professor who would actually give out the previous year's test.  The questions on the current test would be different, but the methodology of how to answer them would be the same.  The instructor wanted us to learn how to use the tools he taught to solve the problems.  I believe this is exactly what Jesus is doing with Matthew 25. He is giving us the test not so that we have ready made answers to pass on, but so that we can learn a methodology of discipleship.  More importantly he is giving a roadmap to us about where we can find God.  We find God by helping those in need.

What are the Risks?

I will not sugarcoat the reality of compassion based discipleship.  It is risky work.   Dealing with people who are under the types of stresses that Jesus identifies is difficult and can indeed be dangerous.  Many times we cite safety as the reason not to choose compassion.  This is the rationale for the current refugee ban instituted by our President.  How one approaches this risk to our safety must be a decision reached in prayer and discussion with others in our lives. However, Matthew 25 is silent on any exceptions for avoiding risk,  The king merely states if people have welcomed him or not.

It is is part of  the imperative of Jesus that we can find ways that help others that minimize risks to us and those whom we serve.  However, we often misjudge our actual risks because of our instinct for self preservation can betray us in certain situations.   More importantly, we miss seeing the risks of not acting in the ways that Jesus calls us to.   For example imagine a society where no one fed you when you were hungry, no one welcomed you when you were from another place, when you were sick and you were ignored, and when you were incarcerated had no hope of a visit.  I realize that this is an exaggeration, but the point is the less people are willing to reach out in Christ's name to help the vulnerable, the more the risk will increase that any one of us can fall through the cracks.   If you think that this can't happen to you, I would invite you to look at life a little more closely. Avoiding the risk of compassion may also mean impeding our spiritual growth.   My own life experience is that I have seem God profoundly at work in hospital rooms, rehab centers, and service trips,    These experiences give me hope.  No one finds hope by hiding under a bushel basket.

More than Politics.

Compassion based discipleship requires real relationships.  Slacktivism will not cut it.   Merely sharing a post or asking others to solve the problem (the government, church, society) will not stand up to the Matthew 25 test.  We will have to hand out cups of water,  give out clothes, hold the hands of the sick, look the prisoner in the eye, and yes even welcome the stranger no matter how they are classified by our world. (even if all say they are our enemies).  From my reading of scripture it is engagement with others in need that is the key.   The effort matters more than the outcome.   Jesus doesn't say solve hunger, he asks did you feed me?

We know from the book of Acts (chapters 2-4) that the early church lived into this reality.   This was despite being hounded by both the Roman and religious authorities.  Persecution was not an excuse for withdrawing compassion then nor is it now.   If it were, then Christ would not have died for us.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht