Cultivating Compassion

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Exodus 17:1-7

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

This week’s scriptures simmer with conflict. Our reading from Exodus finds the “congregation of the Israelites” stranded in the wilderness of Sin, in a decidedly unhappy mood. Water is in short supply, and people know exactly who to blame. Things get so ugly that even after the people drink their fill, Moses names the place “Massah” (testing) and “Meribah” (quarreling).

Sunday’s gospel account from Matthew 21 recounts Jesus’ escalating battle with the religious leaders. Accusatory thrusts and countering questions lead to conversation-ending judgment: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Temperatures are rising. Trouble is on the horizon. Read more

The Cost of Compassion

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

Genesis 32:22-31

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

Quoting Henry Ford, Dale Carnegie wrote in his seminal, bestselling self-help work How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), “If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.” While Carnegie might not have been the first public figure to package this brand of empathy for the masses, he was certainly one of the most prominent. In the decades since, the move he describes here, of understanding “the other person’s point of view” has come to be adopted by businesspeople, politicians, gurus and ministry experts as an effective sales technique, a surefire campaign strategy, a can’t-miss item in our evangelistic toolkit. Empathy sells. Compassion pays off. Read more

No Ground for Boasting

We’re currently in the midst of one of our most enduring cultural liturgies—awards season. With the Golden Globes a few weeks ago, the Grammys this past Sunday, and the Oscars on the horizon, along with a slew of other, less publicized events, this is the time of year when the titans of the entertainment industry gather to honor the achievements of their peers. They will gather for lavish meals. They will hand out trophies. They will make speeches. They will tell inside jokes and laugh loudly at one another’s scripted attempts at humor. They will raise their glasses to their fellow artists and smile insincerely when their colleagues win an honor that they themselves were passed over for.

While we may be somewhat used to this annual ritual, I think that if an spaceship were to land outside of such an awards ceremony, and a group of aliens were able to look in on what was transpiring, it would probably strike them as fairly odd. For all the glitz and glamour and emotion that seems to be bound up in these events, for all the ink spilled by critics and entertainment journalists about who should and shouldn’t win these awards, these shows are ultimately an opportunity for Hollywood to pat itself on the back. Each ceremony is little more than a roomful of beautiful and wealthy people telling one another what a great job they’re doing. And this year, with the spate of revelations about the predatory misuses of power and influence among the upper echelons of Hollywood, these opportunities for self-congratulation seem a bit awkward, if not completely hollow. Read more

The Happiness Market

 

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

When I was a child, the adult members of Pittsburgh society adverted to the Bible unreasonably often. What arcana! Why did they spread this scandalous document before our eyes? If they had read it, I thought, they would have hid it. They did not recognize the lively danger that we would, through repeated exposure, catch a dose of its virulent opposition to their world. Instead they bade us study great chunks of it, and think about those chunks, and commit them to memory, and ignore them. By dipping us children in the Bible so often, they hoped, I think, to give our lives a serious tint, and to provide us with quaintly magnificent snatches of prayer to produce as charms while, say, being mugged for our cash or jewels.

Annie Dillard, “The Book of Luke,” The Annie Dillard Reader, 276

By the twelfth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel we get it: Jesus and the kingdom he inaugurates turn everything upside down. The proud are scattered, the powerful are brought down from their thrones, the hungry are filled with good things, the rich are sent away empty, the poor find good news, the captives are released, the blind recover their sight, the oppressed go free. Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep; woe to the rich, the full-bellied, and those who are laughing now.

These words of justice and compassion stir us, move us, inspire us. Occupying a place somewhere between the destitute poor and the obscenely wealthy, we want what Jesus wants. Preach it, Jesus. Read more