Chapter 3: Jesus, Compassion, and Politics

Here are a few key excerpts . . .


“Two key words enable us to glimpse what was most central to Jesus; Spirit and compassion.  As two focal points around which an image of Jesus may be constellated, they disclose what was most important to him.  In the previous chapter, we treated the role of the Spirt in his life.  In this chapter, we shall look at the centrality of compassion for him, as well as the significant ways in which Spirit and compassion are related to each other.  Jesus’ advocacy of compassion continues to be an invitation and a challenge to the church in our day.”

“Compassion is a particularly important word in the gospels.  The stories told about Jesus speak of him as having compassion and of his being moved with compassion.  The word also represents the summation of his teaching about both God and ethics.  For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God.  These two aspects of compassion are combined most clearly and compactly in a single verse, to which we will return several times in this chapter:   Be compassionate as God is compassionate.”  Luke 6:36

“This crystallization of Jesus message speaks of a way of life grounded in an imitatio dei – an imitation of God.  Image of God and ethos – what God is like and how we are to live – are brought together.  Moreover, for Jesus compassion was not simply an individual virtue, but a sociopolitical paradigm expressing his alternative vision of human life in community, a vision of life embodied in the movement that came into existence around him.”  (p.46-47)


“In terms of feeling, compassion means “to feel with,” as even the etymology of the English word suggests: passion comes from the Latin word that means “to feel,” and the prefix com- means “with.”  Compassion thus means feeling the feelings of somebody else in a visceral way, at a level somewhere below the level of the head;” (p.46)


A conflict exists in community between two differing images of God  – one of holiness (purity) and one of compassion.  Here we see come to observe a central conflict in the ministry of Jesus: between two different social visions.  “For Jesus, compassion was more than a quality of God and an individual virtue: it was a social paradigm, the core value for life in community.  To put it boldly: compassion for Jesus was political.”  (p.49)


“In the message and activity of Jesus, we see an alternative social vision: a community shaped not by the ethos and politics of purity, but by the ethos and politics of compassion.”  (p.53)


“There is something boundary shattering about the imitatio dei that stood at the center of Jesus’ message and activity: “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.” Whereas purity divides and excludes, compassion unites and includes.”  (p.58)