Friday, 21 August 2009

Hard sayings and compassion

Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. John 6:68
The words of Simon Peter to Jesus when he asked his disciples if they too found his road too hard to follow.
There is so much in the teachings of Jesus that is difficult. So much that simply goes against the grain.
In this passage in John 6, Jesus seems to be quite brutal with those around him- like a man running out of patience. I often find myself getting to the stage of wanting to scream at folk: so what part of (whatever) do you not understand? Often, when things seem perfectly simple and straightforward to us, we lose patience with those who just can't seem to "get it". This passage smacks to me of a man at the end of his tether. A man wanting to scream: "OK What part of x, y or z don't you get?"
He's laid it all out from the beginning, drip feeding all along the way. And still they don't get it.
Folk are dropping out, getting tired of the campaign trail. But even those who stick around are floundering in a sea of confusion.
The words I have spoken to you bring God's life-giving spirit, yet some of you do not believe.
John 6:63,64
And we certainly do not fare any better.
What does Jesus feed us?
What is this bread of life teaching?
How can we understand and follow through on ideas that go against natural instincts, years of teaching and our inherent sense of human justice?
In this passage, filled with even more incomprehensible ideas - bread of life, life giving spirit, I believe that Jesus is, in the most loving of ways having a last gasp attempt at facilitating understanding for his disciples. In this passage Jesus is acknowledging first and foremost how hard his teachings are, how difficult the path to follow. But, in recognition of that sheer difficulty, Jesus throws out a lifeline: Stick by me. Let me continue to feed you. Let me live in you and then you'll manage the journey.
Jesus is fully aware of how hard it is for us to live as he calls. Jesus is aware of how hard it is for us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus knows that betrayal lives in his midst and in our midst. Jesus does not underestimate the difficulties. Nor does he let us off the hook. But he is, at the same time, assuring us that we don't have to go it alone.
The hardness of Jesus' way, I think, was illustrated all too poignantly this week in the release of the Lockerbie Bomber. (I'm reluctant even to use his name because of my feelings for the atrocity of the crime for which he was convicted) It seems that justice is scantily served by dying in a prison on foreign shores. That doesn't even come close. But the justice that Jesus teaches is one gilded with compassion. A justice that reaches into the very depths of our humanity and dredges up love. That's an enormously tall order.
A justice that ignores the debate about innocence or guilt. A justice that sees beyond the tragedy of families torn apart forever. A justice that, in love and compassion, sees a dying man and returns him to his own kith and kin. A justice that meets evil head on and rises to the challenge, countering evil with love. THAT'S the hardness of Jesus' teaching and of Jesus' way. And it's a justice that also ignores the hero's welcome that this perpetrator of evil was shown when he returned to home shores, riding shoddily over the feelings of all those affected by that act of terrorism over 20 years ago.
Jesus' way calls for us to embrace ALL these hard things.
Impossible?
Of course it is.
Unless...
Unless we have Christ living within us, providing life changing nourishment from the inside out.
And even then... even then...
Its a hard way to follow.
Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
There is simply no way we can live the kind of love and compassion to which Jesus calls us unless we are being "worked from within" enabling us to make those "tough choices" that have to be made, choices that go against the grain, choices, however that change the world and allow us to model compassion and practice love as God intended.
The words of Jesus dwelling in us, nourishing us, changing us beyond all recognition.
There is no other way.
Christ has those words of eternal life.
Those words that can change us - from the inside out.
Lord, to whom shall we go?

2 comments:

Nik said...

Liz - awesome, powerful stuff. Thanks for posting.
By the by, there's been some very interesting conversations amongst the postgrads in New College about justice/mercy/grace in the light of the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

liz said...

Nik,
Thanks for your encouragement. Hope all is well with the dissertation and deadlines. Miss all that college debate. Don't have the same opportunity in a parish - that's why revgals is so cool.