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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Empathy Today and It's Significance for Being the Best Neighbors With Those in Your Neighborhood--Mutual Understanding: a Reflection on Jeremiah 28:5-9 and Matthew 10:40-42

Many of us hold the notion that the better one thinks and the harder a person works, things holding us back from living life fully will be overcome. Just work harder and smarter. I have been deliberate to develop a mutual understanding with God about my responsibility and God’s in this journey of life. Mother Teresa writes,

We all long for heaven where God is but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him right now—to be happy with Him at this very moment. But being happy with Him now means: loving as He loves, helping as He helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, being with Him for all the twenty-four hours, touching Him in His distressing disguise.[1]

I love, help, give, serve and rescue as God does, by receiving from God the ability to do so.

As I examine the ongoing protests and attacks on America, the good, bad and ugly, I cannot condone the criminal element. In fact, criminal acts do not promote the common good. Humanity has a mutual understanding of the significance of pursuing the common good, but the application of that is wanting. Jesus says in Matthew 10:42, “…whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Looting, tearing down statues and harming others is not good. Antiracist protests must promote the common good in a legal and lawful way. That is done by loving, helping, giving, serving and rescuing as God does. Being racist does not love, help, give, serve and rescue as God does.

The power of God is innate in all people, but not experienced by everyone. Followers of Jesus know that this power of God is a creating, redeeming and sustaining force for justice. This is the mutual understanding between Jesus and his followers in the first century and today. In this regard, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller in Neighborhood Church write,

We begin our lives hearing sounds in the womb. On our death beds, hearing is the last sense to fade…In America, however, it seems we are losing both our ability and desire to listen. We know how to take polarized sides and argue. We know how to quickly respond with labels, categories, and our own entrenched opinions...If we listen from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity, we can discern subtle shifts in our nation’s climate.[2]

Listening connects to empathy. Empathy leads to actions of compassion. Compassion builds warm relationships. This is the witness of the texts in Jeremiah 28 and Matthew 10.

The texts in Jeremiah 28:5-9 and Matthew 10:40-42 assert that God’s message of being “welcoming” reconcilers is a journey of encountering God and others.

In Jeremiah 28:5-9, we learn that God’s plan of salvation is unsettling and uncomfortable, because it is not a feel-good message.

In Matthew 10:40-42, we learn that being “welcoming” is essential for others to receive the good news of Jesus. Ponder two things: first, when others are “welcoming” toward us, we are carrying out the mission of Jesus. Second, our “welcoming” efforts should have the trajectory toward “the least of these.” Jesus calls his followers to be “welcoming” in order to continue the mission for which he was sent. That mission is one of redemption.[3]

When we begin to live in authentic mutual understanding, we’re not threatened by difference. In this “welcoming” posture, Jesus lives his life in and through us for the sake of others. Offering the cold cup of water to the “least of these” is a “welcoming” act of reconciliation. Reconciliation brings about a mutual understanding of forgiveness, repentance and justice. The injustice of racism fosters and deepens human brokenness. God’s intention is for each person to flourish.

We are the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing hope into despair, peace into discord, joy into sadness and love into hate. We are to engage the unholy realities of poverty, violence, apathy, indifference, racism and classism that put people at risk. As we engage the injustices of our neighbors, we welcome them. We listen, become empathetic and begin to act with compassion. Listening bridges the gap of difference and polarization.

Listening creates a “welcoming” context for relationships and justice.On this Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, we recognize the call to be antiracist.Do you expect the church to assist you in Christian growth? I hope so! Christian growth occurs when you welcome your own brokenness and the brokenness of others. Seek reconciliation with God, self and others. Living a life of mutual understanding with others is one of being “welcoming.” It produces justice.

[1]The source of this citation is Mother Teresa, “A Gift for God” as found in Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 1. [2]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 32-33. [3]In the three paragraphs of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Robert A. Ratcliff, Stephen Breck Reed, Mihee Kim-Kort and Nibs Stroup in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 102-104, 104-107, 116-117 and 118-119.

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