Thoughts on words significant for our time – Written by Rev. Robert D. Dayton, Central Presbyterian Church
Jesus was asked what the essences of the commandments are. His reply was to quote from two Old Testament passages – (Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18) to love God entirely and to love your neighbor as yourself. A Biblical, a simple, yet very compelling answer that is as valid and as challenging today as it was when Jesus articulated it. These commands relate to all of life: the knowledge and worship of God is the foundation of proper living. The care of our fellow human being is the essence of what it means to be a person.
Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote a book recently published (2019), Revolutionary Love in which he emphasizes the things that are needed to transform the world today. His says those things are – Love, kindness, generosity, empathy and awe. He includes within that the care for the earth which is major crisis of this time. Similarly, there is a plaque in the house of John Knox (founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland) in Edinburgh reading, “Lufe God abufe al and yi nychtbour as yi self" (Scots dialect), in Standard English as "Love God above all and thy neighbor as thyself." If Christians in the world placed this truth of the Gospel in the forefront of faith, testimony and witness how different would the church be, and how must more effective would be the reputation and standing of the church in society?
The best known Biblical passage which elucidates the commandments is the parable of the Good Samaritan, the enemy is the hero and the entire world is the neighbor. The time has come for the church to assert, emphasize, and articulate clearly the message of the Word of God for people. The central message of the Bible is love, demonstrated in many different ways. At times this message has been superseded by wrenching a few verses from the Old Testament on sexuality and judgment and elevating them above the words of Jesus and the commandments themselves. Notes from the periphery and words that are subsidiary have become the focuses and main emphases of the church.
We must move beyond the politics-only agendas of segments of Christianity both on the left and
the right and recover the sense of awe and wonder in the worship of God that enables us to more faithfully put into practice the love, generosity, kindness and empathy that characterize the Christian faith. Laws passed, regulations instituted, and punishments inflicted do not usher in the reign of God. Rather, acts of kindness and the Gospel lived out not only in word but also in actions are what promote God’s word. In the time of COVID-19, meals provided, rents paid, debts canceled, and generous giving are signs of the Gospel.
Empathy and sympathy are not simply Biblical words, though. Empathy means feeling into the suffering of others (or, feeling in tune with). Sympathy means actually feeling the suffering of others (feeling like). When Jesus shed tears at the grave of Lazarus his friend his demonstrated sympathy. When Jesus was anointed with costly ointment in preparation for his burial by the woman of questionable reputation, Jesus exhibited empathy into her situation. Judas, who complained that the anointing was a waste, had neither sympathy nor empathy for the situation of the woman.
Generosity is a word which means a willingness to give and share, a display of magnanimous actions toward others. The parable of Good Samaritan illustrates generosity on the part of the Samaritan: the Samaritan gave of his wealth even though he did worry about the cost or the danger that his kindness might bring to himself. The priest and Levite walk by on the other side knowing full well the words of Leviticus toward those in need. The Samaritan may also have been aware of the teaching of Leviticus, but he was the one who stopped and put the word of God into action, and that is was matters.
Love and kindness are two other needed attributes in this world. The old English word “loving-kindness” expresses the nature of God and Jesus. The dictionary says that loving-kindness is affection or tenderness stemming from sincere love. In Hong Kong, there is place called the Home of Loving Faithfulness that provides care in a Christian setting for people with the most profound mental disabilities. It is a place the exhibits the love of Jesus toward those who are the most neglected and marginalized in society, and it sets an example that we all should try to follow.