The compassion of Christ compels us to be political.
I’m not talking about engaging in partisan politics.
In Luke 7:16 Jesus is called “a great prophet” because he restored to life the only son of a widow. This poor widow had not only lost her only son but her only source of security in a fragile, oppressive culture.
Jesus was a great prophet not just because he healed the sick and liberated the demonized but also because he spoke truth to power. He critiqued and confronted the inequity and injustice of the social and religious establishment of his people. He performed prophetic, symbolic acts of nonviolent protest like parading into Jerusalem on a donkey and overturning the money tables in the temple.
These acts came at the end of a life that continuously challenged the narrow, restricted, religious and social views and practices of the Jewish religious establishment, which, in their application of the law, excluded and marginalized a large group of people. Jesus frequently provoked the religious gatekeepers by opening table fellowship to everyone (a sign of the inclusive nature of God’s kingdom) and healing people on the Sabbath.
In Luke 4 Jesus defined his ministry in terms of Isaiah 61, which highlights works of restorative justice — liberating the oppressed, offering good news to the poor, setting captives free, and announcing that the kingdom of God is like the year of Jubilee when all financial debts are forgiven, land is restored to those from whom it had been taken, and those in economic enslavement are given a fresh start.
In Marcus Borg’s groundbreaking book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, he says this about compassion:
“For Jesus compassion was more than a quality of God and an individual virtue [though it was that]: it was a social paradigm, the core value for life in the community. To put it boldly; compassion for Jesus was political. He directly and repeatedly challenged the dominant sociopolitical paradigm of his social world and advocated what might be called a politics of compassion.”
The compassion of Christ will compel us to be political, but not partisan. Whether you are registered as a Republican or Democrat is irrelevant. The issue here is not political party; the critical issue is justice, restorative justice.
What matters are the issues, policies, laws, customs and practices that prevail in the social, economic and political realm in which we live as disciples of the nonconventional, provocative Christ. When these laws and customs are unjust, unfair and oppressive, then Christian compassion compels us to speak out and stand up for what is just, good, right, fair and loving.
Here are some examples of unjust practices that cut across party lines:
* Massive deportations that separate and divide families, many times sending members of those families back into destitution and harm’s way is not compassionate.
* Military drones that drop bombs on suspected terrorists, which bombs also kill innocent civilians (including women and children) in the process is not compassionate.
* Cutting federal assistance to the poor because a small percentage of those who receive that assistance take advantage of the system is not compassionate.
* Regardless of what you think about abortion, the fact is, it is legal, and shutting down women’s health clinics that provide much needed low cost or no cost health care to disadvantaged women just because they offer the legal service of abortion is not compassionate.
* An economic system that allows 40 percent of the nation’s wealth to be concentrated in the upper 1 or 2 percent of the population is not compassionate.
Consider the compassionate economics of the early church as described by Luke in Acts 2:44-45: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as they had need.” Christian socialism?
We all know, of course, that the kind of generosity and community reflected in Acts 2 cannot be legislated. However, we can legislate some changes and improvements to a flawed economic system to make it more equitable and fair.
It doesn’t matter what our party’s platform is or which political party we are registered with. What matters is that we vote, work, advocate and come down on the side of compassion.
Don’t accept your party’s platform hook, line and sinker. To adopt a line from the late William Sloane Coffin, that’s like saying, “My grandmother, drunk or sober; that doesn’t get us anywhere.” Confront, critique, and challenge the system for the sake of the kingdom of God on earth and in the name of the compassionate Christ. Work to make us better.