Words often change meanings, or take on additional meanings over time. Take, for example, the word “thing.” “Thing” used to mean some object. Mom would say, “get that thing over there” pointing to a spade, a shovel, a rake, a garden hose or any number of things all in the general direction she was pointing.
About 40 years ago the usage of the word “thing” broadened. “Thing” now became the word for a way of life, a belief, and a characteristic activity, as in “Doing my thing.” You might say to someone working on a laptop in the living room, “Go do your thing in your bedroom.”
This gets me thinking about The Jesus Thing. What was Jesus’ thing? The Gospel of Matthew has a fine summary of the Jesus thing: “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:35-36). In short, Jesus showed compassion. That was his thing. He allowed himself to feel with them. He permitted himself to feel mercy for other people. He then encouraged his disciples to do the same thing.
Did you know that mercy and compassion were considered serious character faults in the Greek and Roman world? You were supposed to be hard and unbending and not moved by another person’s pain and suffering. Did you know that the intellectual Greeks scorned compassion as a crude regression into unenlightened human weakness? Did you know that the Romans mocked and laughed at compassion as a human flaw that would ruin a man’s dignity?
But Jesus had compassion on the crowds that gathered around him, desperate for help and guidance. Those crowds remind me of our culture today. I think there is intense pressure now to forget human compassion, and return to the ancient world of raw power and might makes right. I hope that we will be able to hold on to our Christian value of doing the Jesus’ thing.
Jesus often talked about the kingdom of God as he did in Matthew 9:35-36. What is the kingdom of God? It is Jesus’ code term for our awareness of being united to God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, and each neighbor is part of you.
When we are aware that our soul is part of the universal Spirit of God, and we let our heart be one with God’s heart, we can fully trust the divine. We can risk rest, in the face of pressing need. We can risk great sorrow, trusting we’ll be held. We can risk a painful path of healing from whatever has us in its grip. We can risk an audacious plan, with our credibility at stake amid fears. We can risk a song. Paul tells us that we have already “obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (5:2). We are already in union with God through Jesus Christ now, and in the afterlife.
Not only that, but because each person is part of the Spirit of God, each person is part of us. Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s sicknesses in this way: we’ve just “forgotten that we belong to each other.” Kinship is refusing to forget that we belong to each other. No daylight to separate any of us – that is kinship. We are connected to each other, and the other is part of you. Kinship is not serving the other, but being one with the other. Without kinship as a goal, there is no justice, no peace, no compassion. When we create a community of kinship, we can realize this circle of compassion with God.
In 1944, African-American writer and pastor, Howard Thurman and his white co-pastor Alfred Fisk co-founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. This was our country’s first interracial and interfaith congregation. God is always unifying people from many different backgrounds and cultural expressions. Until recently, we seem to have forgotten that. Let us do the Jesus thing of compassion.
Rev. Tom Cici is the pastor at First Christian Church of Hoopeston (502 E. Main St.). Please go to www.fcchoopeston.org for inspirational sermons and much more.