Monday, May 31, 2010

Christ have Mercy 5

OK, let's do a little more.  I wish now it was not so off the cuff, but this morning I woke up panicking about my daughter's upcoming wedding shower, (which panic I will utilize into getting something practical done, as soon as this is finished for today) unlike Sunday morning when I woke up thinking wonderful, lofty things about how the Holy Spirit is "comforter", also sent to us in our pitiable estate.  The Spirit also shows mercy, in fact through him we have the forgiveness of sins in the church.  We can just be glad and glad and glad for all that.

Chapter 3 is mostly about "splanchnon"  this stirring pity, compassion, which is for us like a deep feeling in the gut or the heart, or the internal organs, something "visceral".  I seem to remember that the Greeks or some other ancients had seats for different things, such as emotions.  Was not the liver the place for something and other organs for other things?   So "splanchnon" is for Harrison, "one of the all time great Greek words".

Splanchnon has to be one of the all-time great Greek words in the new Testament.  You will not find more incarnation, enfleshed talk about Christ than in this word.  I am convinced the word is an onomatopoeia, that is, a word that sounds like what it denotes.  Repeat splanchnon a few times at a low decibel, smile inverted, and lips pursed, and you will know what it means even without Greek 101.  As you repeat the word, you can almost imagine a pagan priest removing these organs from a sacrificial animal and carting them on a surface to be "divined" to predict the future.  Say the word and you are back in Old Testament times, watching the priest removing the bowels of the sacrificial animal and casting them aside-splat! to be burned or hauled out of the city.  Splanchnon sounds like a verbal splat!  You can all but hear the word used in this most base and concrete meaning in Acts 1:18 "... falling headlong [Judas] burst open in the middle and all his bowels [splanchnon] gushed out"

In ancient pre-Christian usage, the Greek word splanchnon denoted the "inward parts" of a sacrifice, such as the "liver, lungs and spleen".  It also denoted the lower half of the body--the womb or the loins.  In more figurative usage, and for obvious reasons, the word meant "the seat of 'impulsive passions.'"  In pre-Christian use, splanchnon is never used for mercy.  In the Septuagint, the Greek edition of the Old Testament, splanchnon began its journey toward is significant and sacred use in the gospels, particularly in association with Jesus and His actions. (p. 40.)

That is hugely interesting, yet, we easily know this emotion from our very own innards.  Yes, yes, all emotions are mediated via hormones, etc.  They still seem to be located in the chest and solar plexus.   Sometimes the feeling is so strong we remember it years afterward and we remember whom we had it toward and why.  Unfortunately, I have to say I have it also toward myself, the selfish beast, maybe more often than anyone else.  And then we cry some about our lot in life and God even hears and cares about that.  Anyhow, we know very well what is meant and the excursion into the Greek is very understandable and great illustration.

Jesus has a lot of "splanchnon" in the Gospels.  And Jesus shows us what the Father is like in his love and compassion.  "Abba Father", indeed.  We get it.

In Chapter 3, we now have 12 passages from the gospels printed out where "splanchnon" is employed.  Jesus has a lot of it for the crowds and for individuals whom he heals.  The point is that "splanchnon" moves to action.  You don't have it and then simply go away.  It's not a TV soap opera for indulging in feelings.  People need help and they receive it.  Something gets done.

There are also the parables.  The "Good Samaritan" had it and he actually did something.  In German we say: "Der barmherzige Samariter."  So we use the "splanchnon" word in the title not the generic "good."

This makes me think about "the good tree" that we are supposed to be.  We know that is not something that can be simply commanded.  The Law has never produced the right kind of tree.  But "splanchnon" has, God's merciful action in saving us in Christ, does.  So this "good" tree, maybe is like the Samaritan not just simply "good" but more specifically "merciful" ("barmherzig").  I like this because often when there are good deeds, the focus seems to be on people trying to do something to justify themselves, or designing good works that do not fit the need of the recipient.  Nothing is more annoying than that kind of "good."  In fact, sometimes, it seems rather detestable and distancing. In contrast, a merciful work, moved by the need of the needy, will be truly good.

This is what Jesus did, anyhow.  He fixed the sight of those who wanted and needed it fixed.  The Samaritan saved the man who lay bleeding from assault.

I notice that none of the examples are from John.  He seems to deal  in "agape".  Paul uses "agape" in 1. Corinthians 13, but "splagchnon" in a few other places, as well.  They don't mean exactly the same thing it seems.  Maybe agape is a little more clean word,  it sounds so soft and lovely.  "Splanchnon" is this from the gut, almost convulsing, maybe a little down and dirtier (enfleshed), word-- stronger, more masculine even, perhaps.  More adrenaline, more urgent action. (I am gathering.)

I marvel that the evangelists would always add this in about Jesus' "splanchnon".  They could just have said:  "There were these blind people and Jesus healed them."  And we would have realized Jesus saw them, loved them and did something for them.  But, no,  we are told very specifically that he had this feeling.  Now, that I think about it, I am glad they mention it.  For some reason it is God's most urgent agenda to save us at all costs.   

Now the author of the book wants to be very clear that here we do not have a call for "ethics" for "law" or a protocol for how to act or care for the needy.  Ethics can be found in other religions, too.  He says:  "The attempt to follow the example of Jesus as a means to gain God's favor merits nothing but hell" (p.44).

Instead we should realize this:

The coming of God into the flesh is Gospel.  It is God's gracious act to accomplish our salvation.  Luther writes that Jesus "became incarnate to comfort."  Jesus is mercy incarnate.  Christ's life is filled with compassion and compassionate action for those in need.  Christ's life is more than an example for our living.  The incarnation of Christ is the strongest and most powerful gospel gift.  He was the sacrifice that earned salvation for us.  In Word and Sacrament, the church delivers what Christ obtained on Calvary--forgiveness of sin.  In newness of Life (Romans 6), the believer demonstrates compassion for those in need, the lowly, the suffering, the orphan, etc.  However, God Himself, God accepts our daily acts of compassion as our daily and holy worship because of Christ.  Philippians 2: 5-8, the great Pauline hymn of the incarnation, teaches us the key motivation for divinely wrought mercy...

We are baptized by Christ into merciful compassion for those in need around us.  In this way we indeed become "incarnate" to our neighbor. Luther nailed it when he wrote:

Therefore, if we recognize the great and precious things which re given us, as Paul says [Rom.5:5], our hearts will be filled by the Holy Spirit with the love which makes us free, joyful, almighty workers and conquerors over all tribulations, servants of our neighbors, and yet lords of all.  For those who do not recognize the gifts bestowed upon them through Christ, however, Christ has been born in vain... Just as our neighbor is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy.  Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christ to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is that we may be truly Christians.

Because of Christ's incarnation, we are freed and sent by God as "incarnate" christs to one another.  As Luther said, we "clothe ourselves in our neighbor's flesh"  We have compassion (splanchnon) enlivened in Christ, and that compassion takes action.  To refuse to "have the mind in you" is to refuse mercy.  It is worse than a mere transgression of the Law;  it is a denial of the very incarnation of Jesus Christ in the flesh.  Thus John the apostle could write:

By this we know love, that he laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart [splanchnon!] against him, how does god's love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  1 John 3: 16-18.  (pp. 45-47)

On the internet, here, we sometimes debate, if Christians are any better than atheist, on average.  Does it make any sense to talk this way?  How does one talk with atheists?  There is nothing worse than the self-righteously arrogant.

Still, last months' McClean's Magazine had a story about how much more Christians give to charity than uncommitted people.  It seemed to be a reason, not to try and get rid of all the churches.  What will we do when all the churches close down?  Who will be doing the volunteer work and give to charity?

That was interesting.

All I can say is, we do have this in the church.  We have God's mercy and we have it for each other.  Maybe there could be much, much more and we can work on that, and organize it better, etc.  And the last thing one would want to do is brag about being better.  If we keep our eyes on Christ and his "splanchon" we'll be alright.  "Christ have mercy" never goes away.  It is the daily cry.

BUT, it is true;  we have this.  We have mercy and freedom and love and joy and I don't even know how other people go through life without  this "comfort".   This is why they seek it in all the wrong places and in the wrong ways and we witness what we witness, although, often enough this happens to Christians, too.  This is why it is our  job to tell everybody about him and paint him before their eyes, as we received in this chapter.  He has "splanchnon" for us all, and this all the time, and again and again.  And we are seriously reminded, you dare not neglect to help your neighbor in need, in view of this mercy.  This is what shapes the great and harmonious community which we desire.  It can't spring from any other source than God's love, his actual doing in the body for all.

The atheists we talk to on-line are very angry that the messages contains condemnation. People who do not believe in Christ will not be saved.  They hear in their mind a harsh message.  The fact is that without Christ we truly are and have nothing.  You are already lost whether you know it or not.  You are already dead, condemned, lost, blind, deaf until Christ's mercy opens your eyes and ears.

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