Of Truth and Compassion

One of the endeavors of this blog is to create dialogue with fellow Lutherans regarding the mission of the Holy Christian Church, particularly with those of us who may have a different perspective. We (the LCMS) have been plagued by extreme labeling and vitriolic divisiveness for quite some time.  And if we are being honest, such divisions stem from different perspectives on, and practices of, Lutheran theology. Therefore it seems a return to collegial and honest theological dialogue would be beneficial to all involved.

Such dialogue takes patience and compassion, with a simultaneous commitment to the Word of Truth. And I’m happy to have begun many such dialogues (online and offline). But be assured, I realize that not every question can be settled by means of a friendly discussion. And I do not hold to the superstitious belief that dialog is the infallible means to settling everything. I hold to the truth of God’s Word, and His Word calls us to speak the truth in love (compassion) and not arrogance (Ephesians 4:15).

As such, I think the Gospel reading for this past Sunday (Mark 1:40-45) demonstrates the compassion that is necessary to lead such dialogues: 40And a leper came to [Jesus], imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter 

Jesus is moved with “pity.” The Greek word means an overwhelming visceral compassion coming from one’s innards. It’s where you look out at the condition that somebody is in and it compels you with a genuine desire to love them.

Perhaps if the divisions in our Synod viewed each other with this compassion rather than with our typical labels and disdain, greater ground could be gained and greater understanding could be fostered. (As of late, I find the labels that I’ve been given by some to be, well, interesting; while others are simply misinformed).

Nonetheless, maybe before we’re going to be willing to give such compassion, we need to be cleansed. On his death bed Luther wrote, “We are all beggars, this is true.” Thus, like a leper begging for mercy, our Kyries cry out. We need cleansing, not only for our disease (sin/death), but for our condition (uncleanness). Arrogance, pride, and disdain leave no “labeled” Lutheran untouched (yours truly included). And very often we forget to look around and see the other “confessional” and “missional” lepers there with us. Jesus touches both.

He makes us clean! Salvation is proffered. What joy there is to be had! But then, sadly, we start arguing about who of us is being the better leper. One is off to see “the priest” while the other is off to “spread the news.” Surely telling others about what Jesus has done must take precedence? Yet, why then does Jesus give the “stern charge” to the leper “to say nothing to anyone,” but that he was to go show himself to the priest?

What are we to do? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Who is being the better leper? We have to know, ‘cause the social status of a leper is pretty important. It’s a dog eat dog world after all.

Isn’t that just like lepers? Begging for mercy one moment, and then forgetting the compassion they were just given in the next. Perhaps the answer does lie with the priest. Leviticus (chapter 14) reminds us that he was the one appointed by God to cleanse lepers. Yet, it was also the priest(s) who would point the Jews (and us) to the Great High Priest.

Jesus knew that the reentry of a leper into society could not happen apart from a visit to the priest. Sacrifices, cleansing, ritual, and washing had to take place. It was the law. And Jesus had not come to abolish it, but to fulfill it. Sending the leper back to the priest pointed to the fullness of who Jesus was and what he had come to do. Missing out on the priest wouldn’t give a full picture of who Jesus was. The priest pointed to how Jesus would become the Great High Priest—by sacrificing Himself on the cross, cleansing all lepers/sinners (including “confessional” and “missional” sinners), and instituting some new rituals, priests (pastors), and washings along the way (baptism).

Without question, His compassion is for all lepers to enjoy, and for all to share. Without question, the truth and depth of Jesus Christ is for all lepers to enjoy, and for all to share. They go together. Perhaps we (“confessional” and “missional” Lutherans) can rejoice in His truth AND His compassion. And perhaps we can intentionally and collegially talk with each other about what it means for Lutherans to put this truth AND this compassion into practice as the Holy Christian Church.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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4 responses to “Of Truth and Compassion

  1. Marcus Williams. Missoula, MT

    I am currently going through the application process for the seminary. Last Wednesday I had my district interview and the question was asked what does the Lutheran Church need to focus on? I answered “Be faithful to God’s Word”. I went on to explain how people have a tendency to react rashly to our “shrinking” Synod and before long we lose sight of Who and what grows the Church, namely God and His Word and Sacraments. I have been reading Walther’s Law and Gospel, in the beginning of the book it gives you background of what our Synod faced when first arriving in America. They were fleeing from the rationalist mindset in Germany only to come to America where a key member of the Church was found out to be cheating on his wife. Our numbers were low. If I recall correctly there were 19 pastors, 30 congregations, and 4,000 odd members. In 40 years, again if I remember correctly, there were half a million members in the Church, a few hundred pastors and a lot more congregations. In the history of the Church there was at one point 2 people on the Earth who brought sin into the world, and after God destroyed the majority of the Earth’s inhabitants there were 8 people in the Church. Do you think they feared? You bet. The point is, God is in control of our Synod and we must be faithful to His Word and the distribution of the Sacraments.

    Obviously what goes along with this is conversation on how this is done. And often times there are disagreements. We can’t turn ourselves inside out over issues of divisiveness but we also cannot ignore what some are saying. Namely that if we don’t do such and such things the Church will not grow. I see this as an attack on the fundamental understanding of whose hand causes the Church to grow. I am pleased to have fruitful discussions on the issues that you’re alluding to but I think there is a time for conversing, defense, and attack. I’m not sure if I am amounting to much here but let us, as Lutherans, gather for Divine Service like Lutherans, commune like Lutherans, baptize like Lutherans, etc. Which is simply saying according to our understanding of these elements that cause the Church to grow let us foster the proper understandings instead of trading them out and appearing to be in unity with those we are not.

  2. I really enjoyed your blog; glad to have stumbled across it! I haven’t found that many Lutheran blogs and it’s always a treat to find a good clear Protestant position.

  3. thank you God bles.and faith to be strong

  4. Pingback: Freedom from Sin | Africanaprincess

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