“But it is not said of Jesus that he reached down from on high to pull us up from slavery, but that he became a slave with us. God’s compassion is a compassion that reveals itself in servanthood. Jesus became subject to the same powers and influences that dominate us, and suffered our fears, uncertainties and anxieties with us. …He gave up a privileged position, a position of majesty and power, and assumed fully and without reservation a condition of total dependency. Paul’s hymn of Christ does not ask us to look upward, away from our condition, but to look in our midst and discover God there. …In the Gospel stories of Jesus’ healings, we sense how close God wants to be with those who suffer. But now we see the price God is willing to pay for this intimacy. It is the price of ultimate servanthood, the price of becoming a slave, completely dependent on strange, cruel, alien forces. …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 involved 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 a 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.” Henri Nouwen
“God had looked upon the poor of the world and had himself come to help. Now he was there, not as the Almighty One, but in the seclusion of humanity. Wherever there are sinners, the weak, the sorrowful, the poor in the world, that is where God goes. Here he lets himself be found by everyone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
John 1:14 (Eugene Peterson)
Moving From Head to Heart
- Consider this. Jesus made himself “completely dependent on strange, cruel, alien forces” in order to serve you.
- Does your compassion (like that of Jesus) transcend sympathy and pity and involve “servanthood?”
- Do you think it’s realistic to talk of going “directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there?” (In many ways Nouwen’s life shows what he must have had in mind.)
Abba, may you be found by everyone.
For More: Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen