John J. Dunphy
Some years back, the local Methodist church we attended asked members of the congregation to write brief devotionals that were sent out in daily e-newsletters during the season of Lent. I contributed four.
I followed the assigned formula for writing such a devotional: a Biblical quotation followed by a mini-essay and a conclusion in the form of an assertion. But my contributions to this enterprise were always unique in the sense that they were theology-free. There’s no mention of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins or impending resurrection from the dead. I concentrated on this world, not the next. My devotionals stress empathy, compassion and the quest for justice. I wanted to write for persons of any faith and no faith, not just Christians.
Reach Out to Those in Pain
“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
Jesus’ last words on the cross, as recounted in the gospels according to Matthew and Mark, resonate with everyone who has experienced pain and loss — in other words, with all humanity. Jesus was quoting the first line of the Twenty-Second Psalm, which continues in this same vein of despair in Verse 2. “O my God, I cry out in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”
The psalmist, identified as David in the text, continues to lament. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” (Verse 14) About midway through this psalm, however, David regains hope and looks to God for deliverance. “But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.” (Verse 19). This hope blossoms into assurance in Verse 26 when David writes, “The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.”
We are told in the book of Ecclesiastes that “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (7:3). I would never want to relive the painful chapters of my life. Still, I must concede that they made me a wiser, more compassionate person. Sorrow and loss taught me truths that I probably wouldn’t have learned had my life been nothing but sunshine and roses. For example, the pain I’ve endured opened my eyes to the suffering of others. “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22). Be the balm. If you were in pain, wouldn’t you want someone to reach out to you? “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31).
Beginning this Lent, I will reach out to those in pain.
Genuine Love and Compassion
“But no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler.” Job 31:32
The central theme of the Book of Job is humanity’s inability to rationalize or even comprehend the purpose of suffering, especially when we have seemingly done nothing whatsoever to deserve it. However, this Old Testament book has other important lessons to teach us. When Job asserts his righteousness before Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, he emphasizes the compassion he always showed to the impoverished and persecuted. Job recalls that he “rescued the poor, who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him.” (29:12) In beautiful, moving language, Job tells his three visitors that he comforted those who had lost loved ones and “made the widow’s heart sing.” (29:13) He assisted those with disabilities. “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.” (29:15)
Job fought to secure justice for the exploited. “I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban.” (9:14) He gives specific examples. “I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” (29:16–17) The phrase “I feel your pain” has become trivialized as a political cliche. Job’s compassion was such, however, that he indeed suffered with those in pain. “Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?” (30:25) Clearly, there was no doubt in Job’s mind that a righteous person cares deeply about others.
Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31). Ministering to those in pain and championing the cause of the oppressed are tangible expressions of love for our neighbors. And let’s keep in mind that “neighbors” doesn’t just mean the family living next-door to us. Every human being on Planet Earth is our neighbor.
I resolve this Lent to show genuine love and compassion for others.
Where Can God Be Found?
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
Many women and men of all faiths have spent their lives searching for God. Where can God be found?
We read in Genesis 3:8 that God walked in the Garden of Eden just before the expulsion of Adam and Eve. Exodus depicts Moses encountering God in a burning bush and atop Mount Sinai. Later in the Old Testament, however, we’re told that God’s presence isn’t confined to any particular spatial point. In I Kings 19:11–12, we read: “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire; a still small voice.”
The idea that God is immanent rather than transcendent appears often in the New Testament. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees “when the Kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20–21) In I John 4:8, we read: “He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love.” Just a bit later, John affirms: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (I John 4:16)
Beginning this Lent, I will bring God into my life by nurturing a heart where love can dwell.
Love That Knows No Exclusion
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unpolluted from the world.” — James 1:27
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34). One of the ways we express our love is through acts of compassion for those who are hurting or in need. To show compassion for others is to show our love for Jesus. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you asked me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 26:35–36).
Love for others and compassion for the needy invite God into our lives. “God is love. And whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.” (I John 4:16). A bit earlier in that epistle, John reminds us that expressing our love merely through words isn’t enough. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (I John 3:18). And let’s keep in mind that Jesus’ Maundy Thursday command to love one another extends to all humanity, not merely fellow Americans and Christians. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) teaches us that our compassion for others should transcend boundaries of religion, race and nationality. Love doesn’t recognize such petty distinctions.
This Lent I will show my love for God by showing love and compassion for others.
John J. Dunphy is a writer and poet. He owns The Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, IL.