Brueggemann on Compassion as Cultural Critique

Sunday,  I mentioned an article in The Oklahoman about Amy Palmiero-Winters. Her commitment to come along side another and give hope proved an incredible picture of compassion. And then today I find the follow-up story. Reading a quote from Walter Brueggemann brought Palmiero-Winters to mind. Critics like to lambaste Chrisitans for their failed ethic. And, we indeed do give many a reason. But I wonder if those same critics get what we strive for – the kind of compassion illustrated by Palmiero-Winters and written about by Brueggemann.

Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness o his social context.


About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

2 comments on “Brueggemann on Compassion as Cultural Critique

  1. Guy Rittger says:

    Todd – Actually, my criticism of “Christians” typically targets their lack of compassion rather than their ethical failings. If there’s one parable in the Gospels that resonates most powerfully as an indictment of many American “Christians” it’s the “Good Samaritan” – particularly in this post-9/11 era when all those “not for us” are “against us” and there are no lengths to which we will not go to exact our revenge against those nefarious “others”. Until U.S. “Christians” come up with a more expansive answer to the question “who is my brother?” then they will be richly deserving of our skepticism regarding their loud professions of faith and piety.


  2. Guy,
    There can be little disagreement with your contention. I would want to suggest that, for someone confessing Christ, compassion is an ethic. In other words, your assertion that we have failed to address “who is my brother,” is in fact an ethical matter. The moral obligation for the other should derive from the ethic of Jesus’ compassion clearly demonstrated and taught. I may have muddled Zizek here, but it seems to me his argument tracks the same in his critique of the left and the right. Even more, if the Christian ethic of love, demonstrated in compassion, were the centering ethic we would invariably have tackled the issue of neighbor identification as a “we ourselves” rather than “us vs. them.” It may be better to use the plural “you” are our neighbor as it is more direct rather than something of the disconnected third person. So, “you, the many” (giving the more expansive answer) are our neighbors. Now the expression of compassion for the many derived from Jesus’ ethic of love would be the centering of our actions and bring us more into keeping with the way of Jesus, which is/should be the primary motive. If it dispels our self-inflicted skepticism in the process, well that is fine.

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