The Covenant of Compassion

22 Aug
Luke 13:10-17
The Covenant of Compassion

Cruelty of any kind to animals of any kind is almost always universally condemned. The banning of greyhound racing by the NSW government in response to the reported on going mistreatment of live animals for training purposes and the mistreatment of greyhounds themselves is a case in point. In general terms human beings have little tolerance for such cruelty.
There is a connection between people and animals which ensure most of us will not leave an animal without water or food and will take steps out of a sense of responsibility for that animal to ensure it is properly cared for. In the same vein we will not tolerate those who perpetrate cruelty to animals in any form.
Yet we are often not so quick to step in when other people are suffering as victims of cruelty. Our definitions of who deserves our intervention, the types of cruelty we will or will not tolerate, and the fences we put around both our action and inaction means we often fail to act when we should. Our preferred method of action is to have another Royal Commission, internal investigation or external review, generally resulting in little or nothing changing. Practical steps to solve the problem become bound up in red tape, protocols, separation of powers, questions of who is responsible and bureaucratic buck-passing. And nothing happens.
For some Christians, Anglicans included, this translates into the duality of spirituality and faith versus social justice. We avoid becoming involved because we do not see it as a spiritual or religious question. It has little to do with our faith.  It is a question for those interested in social justice and activism, not Sunday worshippers.
For still other Christians, Anglican included, our faith is tied up with a personal friendship with Jesus and is private, personal and heaven bound. It does not involve an engagement in the messy stuff of the kingdom of God here and now. That doesn’t matter because we are not citizens of this world, but are only passing through, on our way to glory.
For still other Christians, Anglicans included, if it is not specifically decreed in the Word of God, the Bible, then it is not required of those for whom Jesus died. Without a proof text there is no evidence available to suggest we should become involved.
Jesus and Jeremiah, confront these and other views directly in today’s readings.
100 years after Isaiah for whom it was an article of faith that God would not abandoned the temple, Jeremiah speaks out against such faith. For Jeremiah  “neither city nor temple guaranteed safety to a city that did not act with justice and did not remain loyal to YHWH.” (Jenks)
At the same time ‘Jeremiah had parted company with the ….. reformers who had come to power during the reign of Josiah. He seems to have lost confidence in the capacity of a book of the law to bring about holiness.” (Jenks) For him neither the temple or a book of law would be sufficient for people to act with compassion and he set about reimagining the covenant as one that “would be inscribed on the human heart, rather than on tablets of stone. It would need no religious authorities to instruct people on how to observe its requirements.” (Jenks)
Jeremiah now becomes the post-modern prophet shifting responsibility for faith and action from an external source to that of an internal project. It is no longer the responsibility of the temple thought police or the literal readers of the text to set down the rules of engagement with the real world. It becomes the task of the individual faithful person to so identify the right and appropriate action in every situation.
Way before Augustine wrote ‘love God and do as you will’; Jeremiah had upset those in power in the temple with exactly the same direction. Love of God, the deep sense of compassion sitting at the centre of all, is to be the driver of action. Only an experience of and response to compassion and a sense of the goodness of God enkindled through faith will ensure people live out the covenant relationship with God, and not any amount of rules, regulations or books.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus returns to this theme through a healing miracle. Here Jesus heals a crippled woman who had been so for many years. She comes to Jesus on a Sabbath day and is healed. Jesus is rebuked for doing work on the Sabbath by representatives of the temple.
 Marcus Borg provides some insights into this event:
He says: “The non-Markan sabbath conflict stories follow a common pattern. Jesus, taking the initiative, healed a person in the presence of opponents and then legitimated his action with a rhetorical question that referred to common human behaviour.
Two are peculiar to Luke:
Luke 23:15-16: (Todays reading)
And Luke 14:5: Which of you having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well will not immediately pull him out on a sabbath day?
Both times, Jesus invites them to consider what they naturally do when they saw an animal in need or suffering on the sabbath.” (Jenks)
Jesus does not appeal to precedence from the scriptures, the prophets or the patriarchs. In fact Jesus does not dispute the letter of the law. He makes no effort to counteract the argument of law by finding an argument to makes his case.
He simply challenges them to think of what they would do to safeguard the wellbeing of their own personal property, in this case an animal and contrast it with the attitude they express toward this woman. Your animals are treated with more compassion than:
  • A woman,
  • A sick woman
  • A woman who has been sick for a very long time
He continues: Where is your compassion?
You are more interested in obeying the temple rules than obeying the law of compassion that lives with in you. The implication is: haven’t you ever been challenged by the disconnect between what you feel for such as this person and what you enforce upon her and those without power?
For Jesus and Jeremiah the imperative of compassion overrules religious and legal double-talk requiring us to follow our sense of what is the right thing to do. It is not a question of social justice v’s spirituality v’s faith. It is the love for the Other and others that is to drive our engagement with the world. Compassion changes things and draws together what we have separated – justice, spirituality and faith – as one, giving birth to hope.
Asylum seekers, victims of violence and abuse, indigenous Australians and more require us to stand up with compassion as a church, a people of hope, standing against the lawgivers, the temple and anyone who stands in the way of God’s kingdom becoming present in this world. Trust your sense of what is right and live out your faith without fear and trepidation. Today.


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