Tuesday, July 28, 2009

imitatio dei - An Imitation of God

Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Luke 6:36 SV

There have been so many different views on Jesus that the one characteristic common between all of them is his compassion. There was one line in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg on Jesus' message of compassion that caught my attention:
"This crystallization of Jesus' message speaks of a way of life grounded in an imitatio dei - an imitation of God." (Borg, pg, 46.)
Borg goes on to describe the differences between the common translation of Luke 6:36 as merciful rather than compassionate. The Hebrew and Aramaic word for compassion translates as the plural for a noun that means "womb" in the singular. This is used to describe how a mother feels compassion for her unborn child and how a man also feels compassion for his brother, who comes from the same womb (Borg, 47). But the "aha" moment for me was when Borg described the difference between being merciful and being compassionate.
In English mercy and merciful most commonly imply a superior in relationship to a subordinate, and also a situation of wrongdoing: one is merciful toward somebody to whom one has the right (or power) to act otherwise. Compassion suggests something else. To paraphrase William Blake, mercy wears a human face, and compassion a human heart. (Borg, 47-48)
To others this might be a no brainer, but I was completely dumbfounded! All my life, whenever I read mercy or compassion in the Bible the two were interchangeable. But why would Jesus tell his followers to be merciful to others when the very people he was addressing were most probably the bottom rung of society? Lepers, peasants, prostitutes, liars, and thieves followed Jesus, there was no other social group that was inferior to them which is why I agree with Borg that compassionate is a much better translation than merciful, or even Matthew's translation as Perfect.

Another "Aha moment" followed shortly after on the central quality of God: Compassion. Borg states that Jesus' message was a reflection of God's central characteristic. The first verse I thought of was Genesis 1: 27:
So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1: 27 NIV)
Maybe the Old Testament authors meant that God created us as beings capable of enormous potential of Love and Compassion? We then are walking, talking examples of the life giving (think womb!) Source that created us, our Father, our Mother. Believing in God is not a prerequisite to being compassionate. Now, in the 21st century more than any other time in history, we need to remember, embody, and BE the compassionate beings we are capable of being.


captron52 said...

Very well said!

Don said...

"Maybe the Old Testament authors meant that God created us as beings capable of enormous potential of Love and Compassion?"

Absolutely!! Most of us are stuck in the anthropomorphic vision of God, when it seems the authors were speaking of a much deeper comparsion than the outer appearance. Great book, huh?

Eruesso said...

Great book indeed! I've been introduced to several new ideas that I have to sit and ponder them for a bit before moving on to the next chapter. Short, to the point, and incredibly illuminating. I can not wait to be done with my summer class so I can give it my full attention.

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