I remember when I first found out that some people in the world didn’t have enough food, that people went hungry. My 5-year-old self couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this was talked about so casually (a frequent occurrence for me about current events to this day) and my mealtime prayer became “Dear Jesus, thank you for this food and give some to the others.” It makes me smile thinking about that little prayer now, but I actively thought about the need and hunger of people across the world every time those words crossed my lips.
Fast forward to my teen years at church, when my peers and I took many “spiritual gifts assessments”. If you’re unfamiliar with what they are, think Meyer’s-Briggs but spiritual traits and strengths found in lists in scripture. We discussed these things in our small groups and classes and compared answers like we do personality tests or buzzfeed quizzes. I loved it. Unique personality, gifting, and strength mixes in people absolutely fascinates me to this day. But just like with those quizzes, even though we don’t usually admit it, there is always the cool result and the…not so cool result.
I know you know what I’m talking about here. Who wants to get the weird fringe character from your favorite movie or “if you were a color, you’d be beige!” test result?
In my mind, the cool result in these spiritual gift assessments was something like Pastor, Prophet, or Teacher. Those who scored high in the strong “public” or “leadership” type gifts were obviously the most spiritual! I definitely didn’t want to score high in something like mercy or helps (shudder). Those gifts seemed so weak to me, and I was always secretly disappointed when they showed up in my top 5 time and time again.
I know how silly that sounds, but I’m pretty sure some trace of those feelings remained until my mid-twenties. What changed? The more I read about Jesus, I realized that He embodied mercy, compassion and servanthood. If I sit here and despise the traits of mercy and meekness and servitude, I am despising the reason for and Person of my faith. Is there a more intense way to say YIKES? Because that.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
The very essence of Jesus’ time on earth among us was an act of extravagant mercy. I had to ask myself, do I care more about looking like the culture around me, even if it is church culture, than I do looking like Jesus?
If compassion makes me a fool, or weak, or insignificant, but more like Jesus…sign me up. I have a lot to say about how the era of hyper-masculinity in evangelicalism that I grew up in contributed to me despising more feminine and gentle gifts in me and in others, but I’ll save that for another post. Maybe. Ha.
I see a lot of fear in evangelical Christian culture these days. A lot of talk of “rights” and “holding ground”, being “good stewards” and the idea that one can love a person without advocating for their lives or their well-being. Much of this seems to me to be nothing more than fear-veiled-as-wisdom. Fear for our families, fear for our own well-being. Very rational, normal fears.
But, friends. All of our faith is summed up in these commandments:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mar 12:30-31
And I am reminded of this from 1 John chapter 4:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
Dare I say that we are not following the teachings of Jesus if we are only concerned for ourselves and our families and our rights, unless we are concerned for our neighbors and their families and their rights as well. The Good Samaritan did not inquire as to the religious, political, or sexual leanings of the man in the ditch before coming to his aid. He did not say “well, he probably did something to deserve this”.
“To be outraged on behalf of oneself or one’s own group alone is to be human, but it is not to participate in Christ” -Fleming Rutledge
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson
Compassion acts in justice and love first, and asks questions later. Just as Christ acted in justice and love on the cross with no guarantee that a single soul would accept Him. Compassion and mercy are non-negotiable within Christianity. In fact it is the very proof that His Spirit is at work within us (Galatians 5:22-23).
The more I lean in to compassion, the more I allow my heart to break for people and listen to their stories, the more I realize that my liberty is inextricably bound up in the liberty of all people, the more I know the heart and the truth of my God.
So I won’t despise or reject mercy anymore. I will always pray my earliest prayer for the “other”. I won’t cringe at compassion, but I will embrace it, chase after it. It is our namesake, our birthright, our purpose, our call. Claim it.