When compassion gets real

Like many of you, I was surprised this afternoon to learn of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Like many of you, my first brief thought was about the future direction of the Supreme Court. But my second thought, almost immediately, was of his family and loved ones. Thanks be to God, grace moved in my heart, and compassion found its way in quickly.

I’ve been a bit shell-shocked by the reaction to Scalia’s death. Probably, I shouldn’t be surprised, but there it is. One Facebook friend described Scalia as “rubbish” and expressed gladness at his demise. There’s been some rejoicing all around. Politicians didn’t pause long enough to acknowledge that a human being was involved before they started posturing about under what circumstances this vacancy might be filled. His body isn’t even cold yet.

On Twitter, I wrote, “People rejoicing at #Scalia’s death. I can’t even. He was a precious child of God whether or not we agreed with him. Lord, have mercy.” Someone tweeted back to ask if I had proof. And I wrote this: “My faith teaches me that all people are made in God’s image and are therefore precious. Whether or not we like them.”

We live in an age of disposability. We buy things we don’t need, and then we toss them aside when they bore us. We too easily end relationships rather than doing the hard work of reconciliation. We brand particular groups of people as less worthy, and they become expendable. I get how tempting that is. I’m not immune to this. Sometimes emotion gets the best of me, too. And in those moments I want to build walls rather than bridges.

But here’s the thing. Christian love doesn’t work that way. Jesus taught us to love everyone, and whether or not we like them has no bearing on it. Christian love is not about emotions, it is about grace. Christian love does not come with a Hollywood soundtrack, but rather with the sweaty brow of hard work.

Jesus mosaic Hagia Sophia

No human being — no matter how repugnant to us — is disposable. Every Jewish or Christian person, and many other faiths, should know that each person is made in God’s image. As an Episcopalian, I have made promises to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.” There are no asterisks. All means all.

Scalia’s death is an opportunity to practice compassion. We can practice compassion for him and the repose of his soul. We can practice compassion for his family and loved ones who are not thinking about politics, but grieving the loss of a companion and friend. None of this means that we should ignore his legacy. Christian love is not a free pass. Jesus also teaches us about accountability and the challenge to repent. Absolutely, let’s discuss Scalia’s legacy in jurisprudence and the American landscape. We can even think about what happens next for the Supreme Court.

Above all, though, let us pray. We should pray for the repose of his soul. We should pray for comfort and healing for those who grieve. We should pray for God’s mercy on us for all those times we have treated creation, things, and even people as disposable.

If we Christians can’t get this right, there’s really not much hope for our world. We proclaim a faith which is about boundless grace (remember the thief on the cross?) and reconciliation (think Good Samaritan). Maybe we could try to take the high road now and in the future. Maybe we could say that our faith is not defined by what talking heads say, whether from MSNBC or Fox News. Maybe our entire worldview is unlike the zero-sum world of partisan politicians. Maybe we would do well to proclaim the Lord’s favor and goodness, even and especially, when we are advocating for those with whom we disagree. Maybe we should offer a word of hope and grace on social media.

In the wake of the Anglican Communion Primate’s Gathering last month, I saw worrying comments then too. People were acting as if we can dispose of other members of Christ’s body the church. But the scriptures are crystal clear: we can do no such thing. Instead, we are called to love those with whom we disagree. We are called to double down on relationship and to pray for God’s grace in reconciliation.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

Our world needs to hear and to see the hope of God’s love. Our world needs us to love our enemies and all our neighbors. Let us show forth the reconciling, amazing, transforming love of Jesus Christ by showing compassion. Compassion isn’t worth so much when it comes easily. Compassion will change our hearts and our world if we can practice it when it’s hard. It’s time for compassion to get real.

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26 Responses

  1. Lisa Sargent says:

    Thank you for your comments. You are right on.

  2. Carol Hungerford says:

    Thank you. Well said.

  3. j p roth says:

    Thanks for writing this. The older I get the more certain I am of the truth of what you wrote.

  4. Christoper says:


  5. Very well said, and we do need to attend to the words of Jesus here. I would only add that in the translation, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” the word “perfect” is more accurately, “complete.” (Or as my high school English teacher was fond of saying, “It’s like in grammar, our past perfect tense refers to completed action.”) We can find completion in our being when we can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

  6. sistersoami says:

    after an afternoon of shooting quail…he died at the hunting camp…in his bed…alone. i am pleased the family did not discover his cold corpse. Amen. (’tis all the compassion i can possibly muster in this moment, confesses this honorable heretic.)

  7. koko says:

    Yes my fellow readers:
    It was just this past week I have had to heed to my faith in Jesus Christ. Please let me explain……. It was ASH WEDNESDAY as I walked through a little plaza. At the far end was a convenience store, my ultimate destination, at the other end, a window with the words INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST. in between was another door looking to be a church entrance. The sign said open. I continued walking. past several vacant windows and by another door marked outreach. This is a plaza located a bit out of the way from the main traffic routes in the area. I had heard the store was robbed a month or so ago. I have frequented the store many times and a drug/pharmacy used to be in the plaza. I usually drove to the store but have been walking lately for exercise. Thus I noticed more of the little shops and such along my route to the store.I observed people coming and going and didn’t pay much mind to which doors were opening and closing. Having read the signs on my way I thought to myself ” why not stop and receive the ashes: being raised Catholic I suddenly felt the urge. Several of the doors and signs were marked as places of prayer.Some medical offices and small shops were along my path. After visiting the store i proceed back en route to home. I noticed a door with many people inside. The door marked outreach. So i opened the door thinking i could join in.I was told not now wait for the next class. I kept walking to the door looking like a church entrance with the sign OPEN. Well to my surprise the door was locked. I kept walking , all the while praying to myself as i always do. Now two doors closed behind me. I thought to myself that the other International Church door would be open. NOT. I continued home. Yesterday I again walked to the store. This time there was a young man sitting outside the first Church door as I approached. I spoke briefly to him and asked if he were waiting to go in. He said yes and i asked to go in. He politely told me service was at at 6 P.M. so i kept walking to the store. again the stores were busy and people were shopping on the day before Valentines day. This was early in the morning. Having been locked out on ASH WEDNESDAY from a church door and turned away from an outreach class I was a bit confused as to the signs I had read en route to the store. Anyway going home i noticed where the young gentleman was sitting people were filing in. Men and woman. Many greeting me as i approached; so as these couple of men were going in, I asked for entry. Again i was told NO. Then all of a sudden a nicely dressed woman rushes up to the door as if late and goes in. This is very puzzling to me.Not that church doors are locked but that people are turned away from open ones. We as a world of people must open our hearts eyes ears and minds to taste the beauty of what we are blessed with. The planet EARTH and all the wonderful inhabitants on it. People listen with not only your ears but your minds and open your mouths to praise whatever higher power you praise. I pray this SUNDAY 02/14/2016 for a better global peace and more open doors than closed minds to achieving that global peace universally as all of our YOUTH are depending on us to do. Thank you for giving me the internet and stage to open my voice up to receiving all the love I can attract with wording my opinions! Thanks be to God for giving us Jesus!

  8. Thank you for the thoughtful piece. Truly calls us to account in our own climate.

  9. Pegram Johnson III says:

    Absolutely right, Scott. Well said. The lack of civil discourse in our society is awful.

  10. brigid67 says:

    THanks Scott for your words of wisdom. We are called to compassion.

  11. knitternun says:

    My very first thought when heard of his death was “His poor family. May they be consoled in their grief. May Antonin rest in peace and rise in glory.” Then I began to pray for all those who were already plotting and scheming to take advantage of this tragedy. As much as I disagreed with almost every single decision Justice Scalia ever made, every death is still a tragedy. There is going to be a long and nasty political process ahead of us to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice and it is important to take the time to mourn a human being. A child of God. Our brother in Christ.

  12. Thomas C. Watling, Ph.D. says:

    Scott: your generosity and uncommon gift of common sense–as always–plus your commitment to the church is such a wonderful and much appreciated answer to the political arguments that inundate us today. Many thanks for your guidance and counsel. .

  13. Mary Hinkle says:

    Thank you, Scott, for expressing so eloquently the same reaction that I had to the news yesterday.While I understand why some of my friends so viscerally disliked Scalia, I was faintly nauseated at the glee some expressed at his death.

  14. jono113 says:

    May he be surprised by the extravagance of God’s mercy.

  15. Joan matzke says:

    AMEN & Thank you

  16. landl30 says:

    Well said Scott. I’m always surprised when we don’t recognize the grace of God in people we don’t agree with…. a little humility about our own wisdoms, and the possibilities of others having a piece of truth as well, is good for the soul.
    Len Freeman+

  17. Yes, all y’all. Meanwhile. Horrible, soul-killing homophobia. I don’t give a [expletive deleted] if he liked opera. If you like opera and you hate queers, then you’re stunningly incoherent. Grow up.


    –Note: Thanks for your comment. Please avoid coarse language in comments.

  18. Carol Pinkham Oak says:

    Thank you Scott. On Sunday I heard, “why can’t we just mourn the man?” My response is we can and will and because he is a child of God. In our disposable culture which you capture, I think we have also forgotten how to grieve. And greiving is part of compassion.

  19. Jimmy says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. People often forge that just because you have a different opinion doesn’t mean you are wrong.

  20. Diane Roehl says:

    I would also like to thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am often dismayed by the hateful comments made by people who claim to be compassionate, inclusive and progressive. We are all God’s beloved children – no matter our politics.

  21. Dave Carlson says:

    As a new reader to your blog (another reason to thank Lenten Madness), I am pleased to be able to read Tim’s words of wisdom. Thank you for your ministry.

  22. marje140 says:

    Thank you so much. Very well said.

  23. Reminds me of the deaths of other people a lot of Americans disliked: Osama bin Laden, Mummar Quaddafi, Saddam Hussein. How many people spared thoughts or prayers for them? Death is death, after all…

    Not that I’m so perfect. I wasn’t dancing in the streets, but I did just pause for a moment, privately, and allowed myself to feel very sad that these lives ended the way they did.

    I’m not suggesting Scalia was an enemy of our country as these people were, but they’re all just human.

    There it is.

  24. tonip1 says:

    Thank you Scott. Very well said. We are told to pray for our enemies. Hard to hate someone when you are bringing their name before the Lord.

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