“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matt.9:36.
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.
Scripture reveals God as both seeing and feeling the suffering of humankind and the injustice that is perpetrated against the weak and vulnerable. In Exodus 3:7 God assures Moses that he has seen the suffering of Israel at the hands of their Egyptian captors, and that he will act on their behalf. The Psalmist sees oppression and injustice and declares: “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted, you see their grief and take it in hand” (Ps. 10:14). And further: “Lord you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you listen to their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so that people can no longer terrify them” (Ps. 10:17,18). Among the many beauties of the incarnation is the identification of God in Jesus with humanity in its neediness and suffering. And God’s desire is that those who walk with him live lives of justice and compassion.
By sheer grace, all of us have been touched by God’s compassion and have known its outworking in our lives toward others. Recent events invite us to reflect more deeply about suffering and oppression, both in the world and close to home. Against the backdrop of the spike in racial tensions in the U.S. over the last many months, as well the extreme and ongoing inequities in our society, Richard Rohr speaks of the need for a conversion to solidarity in which Christians both see and feel the pain of injustice and oppression. According to Rohr, progress in this conversion involves recognizing that we don’t see, and that we’re often blind to suffering and injustice as well as to our own privilege.
Keeping company with Jesus in prayer will lead us to a conversion to solidarity that deepens our awareness of the hardships of those around us. For author Martin Laird, this is a central aspect of prayer. Compassion and solidarity will be the fruit of prayer. He writes:
- Fruit suggests something far more organic and nourishing than mere ‘results.’ Fruit bears within it the seeds of new life and provides nourishment for others. The fruit of practice (of contemplation) is compassion born of the fragrant wound of solidarity with all that is. We cannot behold what we are trying to assess (An Ocean of Light, page 128).
Thus the conversion to solidarity that we seek is not about acquiring a new point of view or a more informed assessment of injustice, but rather a growing solidarity with the heart of God in his love for all people. And God’s love is active. John speaks of following Christ’s example of love in the giving of his life for us, and how real love compassionately supplies the needs of others when it is within one’s power to do so (1 John 3:16,17). And there’s much within our power to do. How encouraging that Jesus assigns eternal significance to a simple act of kindness like giving a child a cup of cold water! (Matthew 10: 42). May God have mercy on us by giving us eyes to see, hearts that are aligned with his love and the grace to act in compassion and on behalf of justice as he directs.
“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of this world.” Karl Barth
Imago Dei Christian Communities
1. What injustices, or to use Barth’s word “disorder,” in our world and close to home do you find the most pressing?
2. What blind spots towards those who are oppressed, in need or who are simply ‘other’ have you come to recognize in your own life?
3. Reflect on Rohr’s phrase, conversion to solidarity. Have you noticed this as being a fruit of contemplation? What opportunities for active compassion do you feel invited to?
O God, we thank you for Jesus who:
humbled himself and identified with us by taking on human form,
who wept with the friends of a dead man;
who bore real wounds in his body and died to bring us to God.
May we be agents of your compassion to the world which you love.