16 December 2008

Frailty, Compassion, Incarnation and Love

From All Things Considered, December 13, 2008 · For the past seven years, the studio of internationally celebrated choreographer and dancer Mark Morris has held a special class for people with Parkinson's disease....(more)
Before he had Parkinson's disease, Robert Simpson (left) was a dancer. Photo: Kate Davidson/NPR
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36 ESV)

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (Matthew 15:32 ESV)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)

Parents will resonate with this image.  I'm in a store or on the street and a young child is crying for her mother.  It breaks my heart.  Filled with compassion, I start missing my own kids. Meanwhile, mom or dad are embarrassed, frustrated or maybe even angry.  They feel almost anything but compassion.  Truthfully, if our situations were reversed, I would be tempted with the same embarrassment and frustration.  

God's grace comes in so many forms...
In the same way, something about Parkinson's has always stopped me in my self-centered, self-righteous and self-confident tracks.  This story from All-Things Considered stirred me with genuine compassion.  Instead of my pain or my offenses, I began to see brokenness and frailty in others.  The mom in the car to my right was, like me, profoundly frail dancing with Parkinson's along with the rest of humanity.   The image of these dancing Parkinson's patients made me hungry for her redemption.  For a moment, my self-interests went to the back of the line and I felt compassion and joy.  Unfortunately the identity and security I need to maintain that compassion can be so fragile.  It wasn't long before someone began to bug me again.  

When I see frailty objectively, I can be compassionate but I'm incapable of true objectivity.   I can't know people intimately without their weaknesses eventually setting something off in me.  My daughter's immature, selfish, sinful frailty agitates my insecurity and so my soul rages and my compassion vanishes.  All I can see is what I feel most acutely in my offense ("She disrespected me!").  Her crying fit frustrates me and arouses compassion in the parent across the street.   This 13-second encounter with compassion would not be worth mentioning, except for the grace that trained my eyes on Jesus and his compassion is worth a lifetime of ink.

The Incarnation and God's Compassion Toward His Children
What my soul longs to experience, namely, compassion toward all my frailty, I will never experience outside of Christ.  God's compassion for his children is eternal through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:30-39).  Being fully God, Jesus Christ is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8) therefore his identity is unaffected by my frailty and being fully man, Jesus is able to sympathize with my weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) making his fullness of compassion unique.  

The story was moving not first because Parkinson's is a perfect metaphor for my sin but because I was able, for a moment, to experience Christ's compassion for me, a frail and broken sinner (Romans 5:8,9,10).  My temptations and sin, not my righteousness, arouse this compassion (Matthew 9:13, Luke 5:31 and Romans 5:20-21).  How glorious is this grace?!

Truly seeing the heart of God ablaze with holiness and compassion leads to repentance (Romans 6:1-2).  I must repent for minimizing my sin and God's holiness and I must repent for minimizing God's compassion.  Most of the time I don't think of Him that way.  Sovereign, holy, just and forgiving? Maybe.  Compassionate? Hardly ever.  Yet...
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24 ESV)
Finally, I must repent for my pitiful 13 seconds of compassion.  I have not loved my neighbor as myself.

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 ESV)
When all of this truly comes into focus we become more loving (indeed, more holy: 1 Thes. 3:12-13).  Knowing the compassion of God towards me compels me to radical love (Luke 7:47).  The security I find there allows me to encounter the frailty of others more objectively so my love and compassion towards them can endure.  To truly love, I must experience God's love as it truly is.  

May God amaze us with his mercy and may our satisfaction in that mercy well up to love and compassion for our neighbor and in all of it may God be glorified through Jesus Christ in jerky dancers!


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