An alternative to self-interested values

For Jesus, a politics of love manifests itself in the form of compassion, which in Latin means literally to “suffer with another.” Genuine compassion evokes a deep concern for the suffering and well-being of neighbor, and is expressed most fully in the “basileia tou theou,” the Kingdom of God. Life lived in the Kingdom of God, according to Jesus, is a matter of choosing an alternative to the self-interested values that dominate the society in which one lives, and establishing patterns of relationship with others that are rooted in three core commitments: kinship, kenosis (self-emptying or self-giving), and delight. 

Kinship: Jesus created a new kind of family that transcended patrilineal bloodlines, tribes, social ranking, religious purity, and orthodoxy in favor of intimacy, boundless compassion, a shared commitment to the common good, and a deep sense of belonging. Jesus introduced a radically inclusive form of table fellowship in which sinners, tax collectors, enemies, prostitutes, those deemed ritually unclean, poor, and the dispossessed could sit beside Pharisees, Roman officers, those deemed ritually pure, the powerful, and the wealthy. He called his followers to leave behind their familial, tribal, political, and religious loyalties rooted in exclusion and domination to form a new community rooted in compassion, mercy, and equality.

Kenosis: Jesus expanded the traditional understanding of holiness to include not only personal piety in relationship to God, but also a self-giving, self-emptying solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. Such solidarity freely and willingly surrenders the egoic self, loves and serves others unconditionally, and embraces a commitment to forgiveness and to non-violent, non-coercive means of redemption. In Jesus, the power of voluntary, sacrificial love replaced the competition, exploitation, and scapegoating that is often exercised by those in positions of power and privilege. The same God who poured out God’s self to create the cosmos and everything in it was most fully incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, who called his disciples to pour themselves out freely in sacrificial love for all – especially for the least of God’s creation. 

Delight: Jesus embodied a way of living in this world that saw the Imago Dei – the image of God – in all living things, and therefore found deep joy simply in being with others and with creation in ways that defied the transactional, reciprocal modes of relationship in which we often relate to one another. Jesus not only liked to party with friends; he was often the very life of the party, transforming the people of his community from a “collection of objects” into a “communion of subjects,” as the Catholic theologian Thomas Berry has noted. Jesus called his followers to delight in the dignity and sacred worth of all persons, in all stages of life: children, widows, orphans, sinners, the sick, the demon-possessed, the outcast, and the dying. 

– From “A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion” by Mark Feldmeir – Chalice Press