Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holiness and Compassion

What Marcus Borg tells us about the compassionate Jesus has the potential for practical everyday application. In our daily lives and in our interactions with others, we tend to focus on holiness—our own supposed holiness and our requirement that others be holy as well—leading to that self-righteous, holier-than-thou mindset of resentment and to egoistic acting out, not to mention a failure to forgive. If we think we are holy (i.e. pure), the faults of others, no matter how small, stick in our craw and poison our relationships, albeit usually temporarily (but sometimes the sins of others become so overwhelming to us that we feel we can no longer associate with them). We claim that they have written themselves out of our lives. Meanwhile, the friend or relative we have been so terribly—and cumulatively— offended by usually has no idea what the hell has got into us. Holiness in this sense separates us from life because we have closed ourselves off from love, at least for a time.

Practising true compassion—the compassion of Christ—is much harder than practising holiness. It is hard because it requires that we let go of ourselves, and letting go of ourselves means stepping away from our petty issues, from our pet peeves, from our perpetual belief that we are right and everyone else is wrong. Compassion calls for humility, for putting others before ourselves, not because we want them to love us but because we love them. Compassion calls for forgiveness; even when the other is “wrong,” if we are compassionate we will look beyond the wrong to the reason behind it: perhaps the other person is under stress, perhaps they are grieving a loss, perhaps they are preoccupied with beautiful, creative thoughts.

During Holy Week we hear again and again of the compassion of Jesus; even in the most agonizing moments of his life he forgave. How happy we would be and how happy would those around us be if we thought daily of Christ’s compassion and consciously tried to imitate it.

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