Henri Nouwen: Compassion and Competition

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Henri Nouwen: Compassion and Competition

As a father has compassion on His children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. Psalm 103:13

“Compassion erases the mistakes of life, just as the rubber end of a pencil removes the smudges on the paper. Perhaps this is how most of us really feel and think when we are honest with ourselves. Compassion is neither our central concern nor our primary stance in life. What we really desire is to make it in life, to get ahead, to be first, to be different. We want to forge our identities by carving out of ourselves niches life where we can maintain a safe distance from other. We do not aspire to suffer with others.

On the contrary, we develop methods and techniques that allow us to stay away from pain. Hospitals and funeral homes often become places to hide the sick and dead. Suffering is unattractive, if not repelling and disgusting. The less we are confronted with it, the better. This is our principal attitude, and in this context compassion means noo more than the small soft eraser at the end of a long hard pencil. To be compassionate means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition.

A miner who gets caught undergrouond evokes compassion; a student who breaks down under pressure of exams evokes compassion; a mother on welfare who does not have enough food and clothes for her children evokes compassion; an elderly woman who is dying alone in the anonymity of big city evokes compassion. But our primary frame of reference remains competition.”

Henri Nouwen in Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life (New York: Image Doubleday, 1983) 6-7.

For those of us who admit to being competitive, it may be hard for us to also be compassionate. And with COVID-19 we can use “social distance” as an excuse to keep a “safe distance” from anyone who suffers.

I am not saying you can’t be both competitive and compassionate (as I want there to be hope for people like me), but based on Nouwen’s thoughts here, it may be tough to have both of these traits. This is sobering for people who want to be generous.

Over the next week I will post quotes from this book as I am reading it seeking to grow in compassion and generosity in the second half of this year.

I must start with the confession that I think I tend to use an eraser with the mistakes of life. I am learning that the generous thing to do is to move toward pain and suffering.

LORD, thanks for having compassion on us. Help me treat others with the same compassion and move toward and not away from pain and suffering. Amen.

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Gary V. Smith: Sowing and Showers

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until He comes and showers His righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12

“God exhorted His people to sow righteousness so that they could reap the blessings (the “fruit”) of God’s steadfast covenant. They needed to understand God’s ways in the Torah, follow a path of justice, have unfailing love for Him, and seek the Lord continually. God would then shower them with His righteousness.”

Gary V. Smith in Hosea, Amos, Micah (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 151.

I want to interject a personal report today as we find ourselves halfway through 2020, and as yesterday was the end of my fiscal year for GTP.

As you may recall, I was “sowing” and praying for “showers” over the last six weeks. I was inviting people to partner with me in the work of GTP and praying for God’s provision.

On literally the day before the end of the fiscal year, I deposited the check that put us over the top. When in my journaling, I asked God, “Why wait so long.” I discerned this in reply.

God wanted over 110 new people to partner with us in the work. Had we met the goal weeks ago, I would not done the just and faithful work of inviting everyone to join in the global effort.

Our job is to sow truth in hearts that God has blessed them to participate with Him in His work. Because of His unfailing love, it is His job to move the people and shower the resources. That He did!

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J. Andrew Dearman: The Center of Existence

For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. To crush underfoot all prisoners in the land, to deny people their rights before the Most High, to deprive them of justice—would not the Lord see such things? Lamentations 3:31-36

“God is present as someone who loves His wayward people in spite of their sinfulness. There is more than affirmation of divine judgment in this chapter. If this was not also the experience of the poet before God, he could not have written 3:22-24, and he could not have affirmed that “though God brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love” (3:32). Note that the poet’s affirmation comes at the center of the book, in the midst of the middle chapter. Perhaps the placement is a clue, although a small one, that God’s loyalty is ultimately the center of existence for a believer.”

J. Andrew Dearman in Jeremiah, Lamentations (NIVAC: Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2002) 461.

Recently my wife and I read through Lamentations. It’s true that the beacon of hope, the light in the seasoon of lament, shines in chapter three. The rest is largely filled with sadness.

What I had forgotten, but was pleasantly surprised to learn afresh this morning , was that often in Hebrew poetry, the message is often located in the middle. It is constructed like a chiasm.

What’s the chiastic message of Lamentations that has never been more relevant than in COVID-19? God is in center of existence. He is with us in these hard times. He will show compassion because great is His unfailing love.

Tell one person this today. We are halfway through what might be a long year. May our generosity come into view as  reminding each other to keep looking up. God has not forgotten about us.

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Craig S. Keener: Customary Roles

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38

“Matthew adds a summary statement…making clear that the incidents he has reported are merely prominent examples of Jesus’ many works and teachings. At this strategic point, however, Matthew also emphasizes that Jesus’ mission is not his alone…On the historical level, Jesus’ ministry must also have prepared His disciples to carry on that ministry by example; such were the customary roles of teachers and disciples…As Jesus demonstrated the kingdom by compassionately healing, His disciples must do the same. In short, this is the point in the Gospel at which Matthew clarifies…that much of Jesus’ mission is likewise the church’s mission.”

Craig S. Keener in The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 308.

As we look closely at the compassion and generosity of Jesus toward this sick during COVID-19, we find a powerful idea in today’s text.

The aim of Jesus was not to be the compassionate healer but to teach and empower us to be compassionate healers. This links to the “customary roles of teachers and disciples.”

As a professor wrapping up a summer course tomorrow night, I can relate to this “customary roles” idea. I am not just teaching them with the aim of them to learn.

I want them to go and do likewise. That’s what Jesus wants for all of us. Look for the harassed,  helpless, and hurting and minister to them in the name of Jesus.

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William L. Lane: Ravages and Stigma

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” He said. “Be healed!” Mark 1:40-41

“The leper, who had either seen Jesus’ mighty works or had heard about them, came beseeching Jesus to remove him from the ravages and stigma of this dreadful disease. In the firm conviction, “If you will you can make me clean,” he is asking for healing, not for the pronouncement that he is clean ritually, which only a priest could declare. It may be assumed that the man had shown himself to a priest once or several times already. His appeal was for Jesus to do what was believed impossible by human means, to cure him of his disease.”

William L. Lane in The Gospel of Mark (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974).

Clean is the air and water in the Rocky Mountains. Recently, I snapped the fresh header photo of Upper Bear Creek in the Mount Evans State Wildlife Area.

Alternatively, people were labeled “unclean” in the ancient world who had leprosy. Stay away! I think the same is true with COVID-19.

I don’t get out much, but when I go to the chiropractor for treatment I have to sign a waiver that I have not been near someone with COVID-19 for 14 days.

I can relate. It’s humbling to admit this but I tend to steer clear of sick people. Perhaps you would report the same tendency? Touching them is unthinkable.

Diseases like leprosy or COVID-19 ravage people physically. It may be worse that the stigma destroys the human psyche emotionally.

As I consider the generosity and compassion of Jesus related to disease, I see Him as more powerful than the ravages and unafraid of the stigma.

Gracious God, make us people fearless, generous people who deliver Your help and hope to a world filled with disease and discouragement. Amen.

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Darrell Bock: Audiovisual

Soon afterward He went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him. As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” And this report about Him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:11-17

“The miracle reveals much about Jesus’ compassion and the extent of His authority. We may often feel concern for another’s pain and suffering, but what do we do to meet it? Sometimes the first step is awkward, since we wrestle with how our effort to reach out may be received, for we wonder if by bringing up the painful topic, we will make the pain worse.

But sometimes the most effective ministry occurs in a small act of compassion, not in an attempt to solve the pain. Jesus did more here than we are able to do, but the way in which he acted is important. The touch on the common showed His willingness to identify with the situation and not back away from it. Perhaps the best we can do is offer a compassionate shoulder or a listening ear. But this kind of “touch” often reaches below the skin and meets the pain of a hurting heart.

As we have already seen, Jesus’ miracles are audiovisuals of great truths, and no truth is more fundamental than His authority to reverse death. What was the most tragic of moments, the loss of an only child, Jesus turns into a reunion. The story connects with the sense of tragedy one feels at death and shows how Jesus has the power to reverse its presence. Our ministry of gospel should offer hope that in Jesus death can be overcome.”

Darrell Bock in Luke (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 205-206.

Post number 4,000 is now behind us. Thankfully, the recent deep-dive on the feeding of the 4,000 was inspirational for many. So, I plan to look closely at texts where Jesus showed compassion because I think it is the kind of generosity that is most needed in the world today.

Here Jesus gives us an audiovisual. He leads by example. He does a small act, that for the widow, was really big. He models for us that posture of moving toward and not away from the broken and hurting. How can you move toward those who are hurting right now as a result of COVID-19?

Some have lost their jobs. What would it look like for you to move toward an unemployed person? Others are sick. How might you offer hope to the afflicted? Many are mourning. Could you weep with them? Some countries have COVID-19 spreading widely. How can you encourage people you know?

Let’s move beyond worrying that we might look “awkward” and follow the example of our Lord Jesus who looks compassionate and generous. Let us bring hope and help to hurting hearts. It has never been more needed in the world as COVID-19 may be with us for a long time.

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John Chrysostom: Benevolent and Provident One

Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then He went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and He healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” Matthew 15:29-32

“Observe in this instance, that He does not proceed immediately to the miracle but calls them out even into the desert. The multitudes who had come for healing were not even daring to ask for food. But He is here seen to be the Benevolent and Provident One who gives even to those that do not ask. He said to His disciples, “I have compassion and will not send them away hungry.” And lest someone might say that they came having provisions for the way, He noted, “They have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat, so that even if some came with provision, it has by now been consumed.” Therefore, Jesus did not do this on the first or second day but only when everything had been entirely consumed, in order that by having first been in need, they might more eagerly receive the miracle of food.”

John Chrysostom in The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 53.1 in Matthew 14-28, volume 1b, edited by Manlio Simonetti (ACCS; Downers Grove: IVP, 2001) 35.

For 4,000 days today, God has been leading me into the desert to teach me things. I never dreamed I’d share these lessons with a multitude of readers. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Let us observe with Chrysostom, that Jesus takes us into the desert and waits until we have expended all our resources and have great need, then, because He is the Benevolent and Provident One, He supplies.

If there is one lesson I have learned about generosity that comes into view in this miracle, it is this. God wants us to trust Him and our only right response is to follow. We figure it out as we live it out.

His plan with the people was to minister to their brokenness and lead them to a place of “oh no what are we going to do” only to provide an abundance. Faith leads us to a place of total dependence.

So, wherever you are today, remember, Jesus sees your situation. He knows what you need. Just follow Him. Sit at His feet. He is just writing the story of the next miracle He is going to do for you.

And if He seems silent in the desert. Rest assured, you are not forgotten. For when the Benevolent and Provident One acts. You will partake and be satisfied and there will be enough for everyone.

In that moment, enjoy and share all He richly provides and praise the God of Israel so others might come to know Him.

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Matthew Henry: Weakness and Infirmities

Then He took the seven loaves and the fish, and when He had given thanks, He broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. Matthew 15:36

“He then broke the loaves (for it was in the breaking that the bread multiplied) and gave to His disciples, and they to the multitude. Though the disciples had distrusted Christ’s power, yet He made use of them now as before; he is not provoked, as He might be, by the weakness and infirmities of His ministers, to lay them aside; but still He gives to them, and they to His people, of the word of life.”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) in Commentary on Matthew 15.

Today is post number 3,999. As I approach 4,000 daily posts over the past 11 years, I chose to explore the deep nuances of the feeding of the 4,000.

I want to thank the many people who have emailed me kind comments in response: both for the diligence of my journey and the blessing of this recent study. Look for me to do other deep dives on texts like this.

Again, the miracle appears in two Gospels, Matthew and Mark. It is fitting to explore it at this time because it contains themes of compassion and generosity.

Let us pause and give thanks that our Lord is not provoked by our “weakness and infirmities” and does not lay us aside for our frailties but makes use of us.

Father, forgive us for our lack of faith. Help us in our unbelief. Spirit, empower us in our weakness. Thanks that we get to participate with You, Jesus, in Your work. Be glorified in our service. Amen.

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William Barclay: Curious Little Hint

“The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel…They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” Matthew 15:31, 37

“Many scholars think that the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand are different versions of the same incident; but that is not so. As we have seen, the date is different; the first took place in the spring, the second in the summer. The feeding of the four thousand took place in Decapolis. Decapolis literally means ten cities, and the Decapolis was a loose federation of ten free Greek cities.

On this occasion there would be many Gentiles present, perhaps more Gentiles than Jews. It is that fact that explains the curious phrase in verse 31, “They glorified the God of Israel.” To the Gentile crowds this was a demonstration of the power of the God of Israel.

There is another curious little hint of difference. In the feeding of the five thousand the baskets which were used to take up the fragments are called kophinoi; in the feeding of the four thousand they are called sphurides. The kophinos was a narrow-necked, flask-shaped basket which Jews often carried with them, for a Jew often carried his own food, lest he should be compelled to eat food that had been touched by Gentile hands and was therefore unclean. The sphuris was much more like a hamper; it could be big enough to carry a man, and it was a kind of basket a Gentile would use.

The wonder of this story is that in these healings and in this feeding of the hungry, we see the mercy and the compassion of Jesus going out to the Gentiles. Here is the kind of symbol and foretaste that the bread of God was not to be confined to the Jews; that the Gentiles were also to have their share of Him who is the living bread.”

William Barclay in The Gospel of Matthew, volume 2 (DSBS; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975) 126.

This week as I approach 4,000 daily posts over the past 11 years, we are exploring the deep nuances of the feeding of the 4,000. This miracle appears in two Gospels, Matthew and Mark, and it seems fitting to explore at this time because contains themes of compassion and generosity.

As we dig deeper into Matthew’s account we see further details that explain the difference between the feeding of the 5,000 which happened among the Jews and the feeding of the 4,000 which took place in Gentile territory.

Striking to me was the “curious little hint” that Barclay brings out and how it relates to our generosity, especially in seasons of racial division and strife.

The fact that the bread of life was for everyone, Jews and Gentiles (all non-Jews), means that our generosity and compassion, our kindness and love, should likewise touch everyone.

Imagine that even the Gentile hampers are made clean by the one who fills them in abundance. And how beautiful that they acknowledge and exalt the God of Israel.

How might our generosity demonstrate that God’s love is for everyone? What could we include in our giving to show compassion to those who are lost or labeled as unclean?

The significance of the curious little hint cannot be understated. It’s God winking at those who think they are outside the love of God. There is plenty of bread the hamper. Take, eat, and be satisfied.

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Craig L. Blomberg: Obviously or Miraculously

Jesus called his disciples to Him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” Matthew 15:32-34

Verse 33 provides both the interpretive crux and the potential key to understanding this passage. At first, the disciples’ question seems to reflect the height of obtuseness. The solution to their problem is obviously for Jesus to do what He did before and work a miracle. But the emphatic “we” (a uniquely Matthean touch), corresponding to the emphatic “you” of 14:16, may explain matters.

Previously, Jesus had told His disciples to solve the problem themselves. They couldn’t, so He did. Nut He has consistently passed on His miracle-working authority to the Twelve, including as recently as 14:28-31 (despite the abrupt ending of Peter’s walking on the water). Most likely the disciples think that Jesus’ remarks in v. 32 imply that they should miraculously provide food for the crowd, and they are not convinced they can do it.”

Craig L. Blomberg in Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (NAC; Brentwood: Broadman, 1992) 246.

This week as I approach 4,000 daily posts over the past 11 years, we are exploring the deep nuances of the feeding of the 4,000. This miracle appears in two Gospels, Matthew and Mark, and it seems fitting to explore at this time because contains themes of compassion and generosity.

As I turned from Mark’s Gospel to Matthew’s account of the feeding of the 4,000 with help from Craig Blomberg, I was struck by the terms “obviously” and “miraculously.”

With the disciples, I would have “obviously” thought that it was time for Jesus to again work His magic. It was time for Him to feed the hungry masses again. After all, He is the Son of God.

But like only Jesus can do, He calls them to participate in it. He wants them to exhibit faith in the God who can do miracles in order to draw the people closer to God.

This is the challenge I find often in my role as CEO. God shows me He can do miracles. Then He wants me to put to work what I have and rally people to see His glory.

But like the disciples, often I am not “convinced” I can do it. Jesus said that the disciples would do greater things. But do we believe the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us?

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