“Jesus’ compassion is characterized by a downward pull. That is what disturbs us. We cannot even think of ourselves in terms other than those of an upward pull, an upward mobility in which we strive for better lives, higher salaries, and more prestigious positions. Thus, we are deeply disturbed by a God who embodies a downward movement. Instead of striving for a higher position, more power, and more influence, Jesus moves, as Karl Barth says, from ‘the heights to the depth, from victory to defeat, from riches to poverty, from triumph to suffering, from life to death.’ Jesus’ whole life and mission involve accepting powerlessness and revealing in this powerlessness the limitlessness of God’s love. Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional without reservation. It is the compassion of the one who keeps going to the most forgotten corners of the world, and who cannot rest as long as there are still human beings with tears in their eyes. It is the compassion of a God who does not merely act as a servant, but who expresses the divinity of God through servanthood” (pp. 24-25).

“… Nobody finds anything wrong or strange with attempting to help people who are visibly lacking the basic necessities of life, and it appears quite reasonable to try to alleviate suffering when this is possible. But to leave a successful position and enter freely, consciously, and intentionally into a position of servanthood seems unhealthy. It is a violation of the most basic human instincts. To try to lift others up to our own privileged position is honorable and perhaps even an expression of generosity, but to attempt to put ourselves in a position of disrepute and to become dependent and vulnerable seems to be a form of masochism that defies the best of our aspirations.

“Something of this attitude appears in the expression ‘helping the less fortunate,’ which frequently can be heard from the mouths of those who ask or offer aid. This expression has an elitist ring to it because it assumes that we have made it and have gotten it together while they simply have not been able to keep up with us and need to be helped. It is the attitude which says: ‘Fate is on our side and not on theirs. But since we are Christians we have to lift them up and give them a share of our good fortune. The undeniable fact is that the world is divided between the “fortunate,” and the “unfortunate” ones. So let us not feel guilty about it, but reach out as good people to those who happen to be on the other side of the fence.’ In this way of thinking compassion remains part of competition, and is a far cry from radical servanthood” (pp. 28-29). (emphasis mine)

Compassion by Henri Nouwen, Donald P. Mcneill and Douglas A. Morrison


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