STRETCHING YOUR NET OF COMPASSION

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I’ve noticed a recurring theme, a lesson of sorts, that keeps coming up in my life in various ways. At first, I was trying to ignore it as I knew that giving it attention would require a lot of work and introspection. But I’ve realized that God or the universe or whatever YOU want to call it, is trying to school me on the subject of compassion or more specifically, unconditional love for others.

I’m coming at this topic from a primarily Christian perspective, but that is only because it’s what I’m most familiar with. I think anyone and everyone can relate to what I’m going to say. Whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Wicken or praying to a shrine in your closet,  I encourage you to keep reading even while I get into the tiniest bit of Jesus-talk.

In the Bible it says over and over to love others, to love your neighbor as yourself, that love heals all things, etc. etc. I think it’s really easy to read this and feel uplifted and inspired. Just love everybody, man! But it means a heck of a lot more than that. It means loving when it’s really freaking hard. It means loving the people who are mean to you, who disagree with you, who are voting for the wrong presidential candidate. And that’s the tough stuff. One of the verses in the Bible touches on this kind of really hard love specifically (aside from the whole “forgive them father” section…that’s a big one). In Matthew 5 verse 43-46 it says  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”.

This theme has come up for me over and over and I think it’s because it’s something I’m really bad at. I call myself a Christian but I’m terrible at loving those that I find hard to love. I write people off when they disappoint me. It’s difficult for me to put myself in others’ shoes and I find it hard to forgive when people “wrong” me. But I’ve seen some pretty amazing examples that I want to share, partly for others but partly for myself, in hopes that exploring them will inspire me.

Many years ago my grandparents decided to help a young, troubled girl in their town by providing financial support to put her through college. My mom recalls one day when she and her family were at home and looked out the window, only to see a cross burning on the front lawn. It came out that it was the girl they were trying to help, rebelling against them. My grandfather spoke with the girl and asked her what motivated her to take such an extreme action. I don’t know what came of the conversation but in the end, he decided to continue to provide for her and help her in any way he could. This is one of many times my grandpa chose to respond in love.

In Wyoming in 1992, a young man named Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die tied to a fence. This was said to be a hate crime in response to Matthew’s sexual orientation. At the trial, when deciding on the sentence for the two murderers, Matthew’s father Dennis read a letter to the judge. He made the following statement “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.” Has there ever been a more beautiful display of forgiveness, love, and grace? I pray that someday I might have the ability to be so forgiving and strong.

On the night of the Paris attacks, a man in Connecticut fired a few rounds into the Mosque next door. On various forms of social media, he spoke hatefully about Muslims, going so far as to say “Is Muslim season open yet? I’m in a target rich environment.” I think a very acceptable and even appropriate response would be to feel anger towards this violent man. Instead, the president of the Mosque invited the man to a service at the Mosque and instructed all of its Muslim members to offer him a hug and show forgiveness. Of course, there is no way to know whether this truly happened and whether it was genuine, but it’s not the only story of its kind. I want to believe that people are capable of such loving behavior.

And so I HAVE to believe I am capable of it as well. The title of this post is “stretching your net of compassion”. I stole these words from today’s sermon by K Karpen at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew. I’m going to butcher this so bear with me. The sermon was about the story in the gospel of John when, with Jesus’s help, the disciples catch 153 fish in their net. Though they have so many fish, the net does not break. K likened this to our love for one another. He said that God’s net of compassion is cast wide. The net doesn’t discriminate against gay fish, straight fish, black fish, white fish, republican fish or democrat fish. His net of mercy and compassion catches all of them without breaking.

So, I’m going to work on it. I’m going to work really really hard on it. I get upset when people hurt people that I love. I get upset when people treat me in a way that I (hope) I would never treat them. I get upset with people who treat complete strangers disrespectfully. But Jesus didn’t hate the men who crucified him. My grandpa didn’t hate the young girl who responded to his love with complete disrespect. Matthew Shepard’s parents didn’t hate the men who brutally killed their son. I think I can work on loving a little bit better, even when it’s really really hard.

7 thoughts on “STRETCHING YOUR NET OF COMPASSION”

  1. What a terrific read for an early morning NYC commute. Thank you, Emma. Your perspective is dead-on, my friend.

    Love,

    B

    1. Thanks for reading Bronson! And thanks for saying that, I’m always happy to hear someone is enjoying it 🙂
      xo

  2. I just wondered, what version of the Bible you read? I just wondered how you explain the verse, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6)? God says several times, very clearly, that salvation through faith is the only way to heaven. I strongly agree that people need to love people more! Just, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’.
    btw I’m not meaning to ‘grill’ you, I honestly wondered what your beliefs are?

    1. Hi Megan,

      Thanks so much for your response and for sharing your thoughts. I totally see where you are coming from with your question and it is one I think about often as well. To answer your question, I read the NIV. The Bible does say that Jesus is the way the truth and the life, it also says (too many times to count) that love is the only way. I believe that only God knows what is in people’s hearts. God’s relationship with others is not for me to judge, it is a personal relationship that he will work out with them, if and when the time comes.

      A few other thoughts: The Bible says a lot of things that we no longer take literally. Without even getting into some of the things the Old Testament says, how about in Matthew 5:30 “…and if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than your whole body to be thrown into hell…” Where do we put that? How do we integrate those statements into our lives?

      As you say “love the sinner, hate the sin”. Is the sin a woman having an abortion? Is it a person getting a tattoo? Is it sleeping in the same bed as a menstruating woman? Is it wearing clothes made out of a certain kind of fabric? Is it two men in a relationship? Who determines this?

      It’s a really interesting conversation to have, with both Christians and non-Christians. I really appreciate that you shared your opinion. This is just a little bit about mine! Hopefully it wasn’t too much.

      Best,
      Emma

      1. Sure! I agree that it is interesting to discuss. I also agree with the fact that we can’t judge another person’s relationship with God, to an extent. It talks in Matthew 7:15-23 about how the outward life of a person determines what their heart is (if we are Children of God, we have the “fruit” or manifestation of the spirit–Galatians 5:22-23). It’s just that if a person is totally disregarding God and what His word says, they cannot call themselves a “Christian”, as “Christian” means a follower of Christ, not a religious person.
        It is also hard to draw lines as far as “what goes”! The fact that salvation is only fulfilled in the New Testament, most of the rules and laws of life in the Old Testament are no longer necessary. However, Christ always referred to “the law”(the ten commandments–Exodus 20) and keeping it, so the black and white of what’s sin is the ten commandments and the instructions to the new churches throughout the New Testament (because it’s after the Old Testament rituals were done away with).
        Of course there are still “gray areas” that aren’t really specific (as far as women in only skirts or women in pants?) and such like. As far as “gray areas”, I think it is different for everyone. It is hard to determine such things, though, and that’s why we are constantly reviewing our life to make sure we’re truly following Christ.
        Thanks for discussing this, though! Being a very controversial subject, a lot of people don’t even want differences of opinion mentioned. I think people need to think for themselves and try to be open to other people’s thoughts =)

  3. I’m so glad I read this. It’s so easy for me to perceive my compassion for other people as real love, or to think that being nice to everyone is the same as loving them. It’s SO MUCH MORE than that. I hope I’m able to demonstrate true love someday (hopefully more than once) as a wonderful testament to the power of Jesus’ love for me!

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