Remember the moments when King Jesus uses strong words? They could be interpreted as lacking compassion, un-Christ-like (oddly), and perhaps even dehumanizing.
Jesus uses rhetoric like ‘white washed walls’ and ‘hypocrisy’ (Matt. 23:27-28), ‘children of snakes’ (Matt. 12:34; 23:33), and ‘you are of your father the devil’ (Jn. 8:44-47). He calls false prophets and false teachers ‘ravaging wolves’ in ‘sheep’s clothing’ (Matt. 7:15, 10:16). He warns that everyday worshippers that refuse to offer concrete expressions of care for the poor, imprisoned, stranger, and sick will be a community of ‘goats.’ And of course there’s everyone’s fav when he turns over the Temple tables of greed and power (Jn. 2:13-16). As far as I can tell Jesus speaks these words to either religious leaders, everyday worshippers or both.
Jesus eventually offers an invitation to repentance and forgiveness to those on the receiving end of these words. I am especially glad because I have been (and will be) on the receiving end! The hard truth is that the threads of faith sewn together with the reign of sin and death must be pulled. Words can do that. They disrupt and disorient, sometimes in candor, sometimes in hyperbole and satire (read some of Jesus’ words closely in addition to the Hebrew prophets). Words can also heal, but only after we are awakened to what is making us sick.
What I see in King Jesus is that love is not sentimentality. Love does what is right, not what is easy. It is a relational expression of truth, compassion, and justice modeled after the holy heart of the God who knows us best and loves us most. Love has to look and sound like something more than sentimentality, especially when it speaks to those standing in the majority or in the social center of influence and power. And not everyone will like it (Matt. 10:34-39, Jn. 6:60-64).
When we call for ‘compassion’ and ‘Christ-likeness,’ let’s remember the whole narrative of Scripture and deal honestly with the prophetic moments of Jesus’ priestly and kingly ministry. He can teach us how to hold the tension of the priestly and prophetic in place. I, like many of you, am still learning how. It’s the most compassionate, Christ-like, and truly human thing we can do.