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critique of compassion

May 4, 2022 5 comments

 

Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharoah, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context.

—From The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

I have never considered this aspect of Jesus’ compassion. Considering his constant non-violent attack upon the blindness of the religious establishment, I think it’s prudent to concur with Brueggemann’s understanding on this. Anything we do that mirrors the nature and character of the Christ pretty much confronts that social “numbness,” ineffectiveness, and lethargy of institutional religion. Any “like Christ” witness very often exposes and looks very different to the norms and attitudes of religious churchmanship (which is a terrible sport). Actually, it might have everything to do with the chronic institutional shrinkage as a whole. —MDP

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