Have you ever cared for someone you had no reason to be concerned about?
What a strange question to start out with, don’t you think? We are now into the Great 50 Days of Easter, the time from Resurrection Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. Its a time for us to reflect on everything we’ve witnessed, experienced and been conscious of. God in Jesus Christ, made a decision to show us what true love and compassion looks like. Jesus looked on his tormentors, his persecutors, his deniers, with more compassion and love than the world has ever seen or known.
In a world that is self-absorbed and concerned with self, to find self-less acts of giving and compassion is rare at best. We are constantly bombarded with messages of what can make us younger, prettier, have more vitality, anti-aging, fat reducing, smarter, calmer. It all points to a fixation on self. We are being sold on what something can do for us. The prime subject being US. Marketers and promoters know that in general, people are self absorbed. People look at, and become interested in those things they perceive can do something for them. After all, you have to look out after number 1, don’t you? We’re told self-care must take priority in our lives. And so, we have a world that focuses on self and “what’s in it for me.”
Jesus never once questioned “what’s in it for me?” All of his actions, all of his words, pointed at the other. Jesus acted out of an other directed motive. What’s in it for others characterizes all that Jesus lived and died for.
What about us? Where are we on the compassion/love scale? Are the first questions we ask ourselves before engaging in an action, what’s in it for me or what’s in it for others? I know all the latest and greatest theories and philosophies talk about self-care and making sure we are ok before we begin to engage in helping others. You can’t help anyone else if you haven’t taken care of you first. There’s some real merit in those admonitions. Somehow though, many have taken that to the extreme and concentrated mostly on self, and if any energy/money/concern/compassion/love is left over, then we can focus on others who are in need.
Let’s be honest, being a true follower of Jesus is an other directed pursuit. Following Jesus has never been about self, its always been about others. Following Jesus is not about us getting into, or earning a ticket to heaven/paradise. The Bible speaks very little about that otherworldly place of heaven after death. It speaks a great deal about how to help the world become God’s paradise. Jesus’ resurrection was the final word on what it means to give one’s self away. Compassion and love cannot be extinguished and they live on beyond death and the grave.
I’ve started reading a new book about the life of Ruth Coker Burks, entitled All the young men.
Maybe you’ve heard of her, or the book, or both. Ruth is a phenomenal example of other directed love. Ruth was a young, single mom, living in a place that had little to no compassion for those who were different. On her own, Ruth became an activist for those who were different, those who others would deny their existence, or worse, would cast them away and condemn them to indignity and death. Ruth’s compassionate heart moved her to pour out love on people she had no connection to, no reason to. Ruth was truly self-less and projected a real follower of Jesus attitude.
This book is making the rounds, and is also being made into a movie. Those are great things for Ruth and her story. She is very deserving of all the accolades she is receiving. That, however, is not the reason she did what she did. Ruth’s heart of love and compassion was kicked into high gear when she stumbled upon Jimmy. She was visiting a friend in the hospital and had stepped out into the corridor to hear a group of nurses arguing. She heard them say, “I’m not going in there, you go.” They were drawing straws for who would have to go in the room down the hall. Ruth quietly went down the hall to see what was so bad no one wanted to go down there. She was confronted with a room draped with all the signs of “stay away, bio-hazard.” She noticed styrofoam trays of food left on the floor at the door of the room. From the other side of the door she heard a very weak cry of “help.” She went in to see a very sick, a very emaciated young man who couldn’t even cry real tears because he was so dehydrated. After learning that all he wanted was his mama, Ruth went and told the nurses. They said, “she won’t come, nobody’s coming for him.” That was it, Ruth’s love and compassion took over her whole existence.
When Jesus heard a cry of help from the world, his heart of love and compassion took over his existence as well. Jesus gave himself away to help all of us. As followers of Jesus, we are to do the same thing for the world around us. We have rare examples of such devotion, love, and compassion. Ruth is just one of those.
We are beginning to work toward re-opening in person worship, but we are hoping to make our reopening not so much about us, as about what we can do for others. You and I are having our compassion and love kindled to be other directed. I hope in the weeks and months ahead, as we begin to engage in acts of service, all of us can be true followers of Jesus.
Love and Peace,