Sunday, March 19, 2017

Compassion: Tender, Fierce, Mischievous

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 3 Lent, 19 March 2017
RCL Year A: Exodus 17:1-17; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
Notice how our scriptures flow: Water flows from the rock in the wilderness in Exodus. Our Psalm speaks of the sea which God the Rock of our Salvation makes. In Romans Paul gives us imagery of God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. In our Gospel Jesus has a perspective-changing conversation with the woman at the well.
Notice how different kinds of compassion flow through our scriptures: the tenderness Paul speaks of saying God reconciled us while we were still sinners, the fierceness with which Moses sets out ahead of the people to find water, the mischievousness with which Jesus engages the literal-minded woman at the well. 

Compassion is the temporal manifestation of God’s eternal loving kindness which transforms the world.[1] Notice how Jesus transforms the perspective of the woman stuck in literal thinking about life & water.

Like her, we encounter Jesus the Living Water in many ways, including at this Holy Table. Like her & the disciples & the people with Moses, we can get confused: Do we have what it takes to get Living Water? Do we have a bucket & long-enough rope to reach deep into the well?

The word John uses for water in our Gospel can mean “living water or running water.”[2] No wonder the woman is confused. No wonder the disciples are confused.

I wonder if we more readily understand the people quarreling with Moses: they are in a desert with no water in sight. God tells Moses how to remove the literal barrier to life-giving water.
The area where they are has limestone rocks. Hitting the rock exposes the porous inner layer holding water.[3] God’s miracles often come through God’s created world.

Demanding immediate answers & proof from God how things will work out, as we see in Exodus, we build barriers between us & God. As one Bible commentary notes about our being reconciled to God, as we read in Romans: We are the ones who have been enemies to God, the ones resisting God.[4] God removes the barrier & makes grace possible for us.[5]

When we focus solely on human perspective like the people in our scriptures, we can neglect our relationship with God. We focus our energies more easily on problems & forget to trust God for guidance. We quarrel more readily & let anger rule.
God gives us anger to energize us to pursue safety for ourselves & others. There is a fine line between anger & fierceness. Anger also rants about a past perceived injustice. Fierceness confronts in a single-minded pursuit to transform injustice for a just future. The difference is, as comedian Richard Pryor said: Are we interested in “justice or just us”.[6]

We see human limitations in our scriptures. Jesus shows us how to reach beyond limited perceptions of “those people”. How can we shift our limited perspectives to see as Jesus sees?
We can enhance our gift of compassion by developing all 3 types of compassion we see in Jesus. Depending on the situation, he responds with tenderness, fierceness & mischievousness.
We see the mischievous way he interacts with the woman at the well as he works to shift her literal perspective. Think of the fierceness we see when Jesus drives money changers from the temple & when he fiercely remains silent when Pilate questions him.
Fierceness is anger redeemed. Anger is usually noisy, filled with emotion, like the people in Exodus ready to stone Moses. Fierceness can go beyond emotion & be quiet.
Know this: There are wise, practical, compassionately fierce ways to love & forgive someone, even an enemy, & fiercely keep the person in jail, not as punishment but as a compassionate way to protect others from further injustice at that person’s hands.
When we stay hydrated by the Living Water, the Holy Spirit guides us so we can think beyond our needs & see with compassion what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do individually & as this Body of Christ.
When we stay hydrated by the Living Water, we stay refreshed, creative & able to apply appropriately the 3 types of compassion, which we will look at more closely in our Wednesday night Lenten Forgiveness Forum.
Ponder this fact: You / we are vessels, containers, conduits of Living Water for a thirsty world. We are not the Water. We are the way God chooses to water the crop, which Jesus says is ripe for harvesting.
How tenderly, how fiercely, how mischievously
will you water the crop?

Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol. 1. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2nd Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Biblica Americana. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Revised Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1999.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: A Seabury Book. Winston Press. 1985.
New Oxford Anontated Bible with Apocrypha. Eds: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 1977.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR:The Appreciative Way. 2010. “Teaching Forgiveness”. 2014.

NOTE: Concept of 3 types of compassion, tenderness, fierceness, mischievousness, from psychologist Stephen Gilligan, quoted P. 55 by Robert J. Voyles, “Teaching Forgiveness”.

[1] From Robert J. Voyles, “Teaching Forgiveness”, quoting Kim Voyle. P. 50.
[2] Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed.: James L. Mays. P. 1052.
[3] Jewish Study Bible. P. 142.
[4] Ibid. Harper’s. P. 1143.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Quoted P. 56. Voyles, Robert J. “Teaching Forgiveness”.

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