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Compassion

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After writing on the immigration theme, I find myself increasingly preoccupied with the knowledge we have of the hungry, the cold, the destitute: how disparately, how inequitably, we live and think nothing of it! In particular I John 3:16ff returns again, as it has for years when I consider this topic.

“This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. And we in turn must give our lives for our fellow Christians. But if someone who possesses the good things of this world sees a fellow Christian in need and withholds compassion from him, how can it be said that the love of God dwells in him?”

“Children, love must not be a matter of theory or talk; it must be true love which shows itself in action. This is how we shall know that we belong to the realm of truth, and reassure ourselves in his sight where conscience condemns us; for God is greater than our conscience and knows all.”

Our mandate is not to fix the world; it is to love and respond with what we have with those who have need of the basics. The mandate of Matthew 25 is clear: when one provides for one in need, one provides for Jesus.  John is clear that laying down one’s life for one’s brother entails meeting his physical needs.

To the extent we do not respond compassionately, we have not yet been transformed by the Spirit to live in God’s love. That is what pleases him.

“My dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, then we can approach God with confidence, and obtain from him whatever we ask, because we are keeping his commands and doing what he approves. His command is that we give our allegiance to his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as Christ commanded us.” (emphasis mine)

This isn’t “works”; to confuse that is to totally miss the essence of what John said. When, by the Spirit, we have been changed to think and feel as God does, we will act as he does, giving ourselves to others. If we’ve resisted the Spirit, if we have not been changed to think as he thinks, love as he loves, we will not live selflessly as God does.

Nor is this abstract theological truth. The needs are ever before us, and we have long grown callous. To the extent that we do not respond in compassionate response, not just token efforts but generously, equitably, passionately, we are not living as Jesus lived. He has something to say about that.

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