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 In The Public Square--Authenticity Is A Collection Of Choices: a Reflection on Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Matthew 20:1-16
Authenticity, in good and bad times, is a collection of choices. Choosing authenticity creates a “must listen” environment. In this regard, did you know that your ability to choose to praise God, authentically, in good and bad times, matters? Ponder this:
You take approximately 23,000 breaths every day, but when was the last time you thanked God for one of them? The process of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is a complicated respiratory task that requires physiological precision. We tend to thank God for the things that take our breath away. And that’s fine. But maybe we should thank him [God] for every other breath too!
With a desire to make authentic choices in life, as well as in one’s relationship with God and relationships with others, we continue the four-week series entitled “God’s Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers: Empathy Today and Its Significance for Being Best Neighbors in the Public Square.”
The focus in this series is the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice and their impact on being best neighbors in the public square. The previous two weeks, we explored prudence and temperance. This week, fortitude. Living the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance and fortitude is essential for building character rooted in empathy. Then, we can demonstrate actions of compassion that exude care and tenderness, love and belonging and courage and strength that deepens an authentic life experience.
Fortitude means an ability to face danger, adversity, difficulty and temptation with courage and strength. Brene Brown writes this regarding fortitude,
Whenever I’m faced with a vulnerable situation, I get deliberate with my intentions…. I think there’s something deeply spiritual about standing your ground…. I’m inspired by everyone who shares their work and opinions with the world. Courage is contagious…. I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable.
My friends, whereas prudence demonstrates care and tenderness through empathy, temperance demonstrates love and belonging through empathy, fortitude demonstrates courage and strength through empathy. When one knows who they are, does what they really need to do and has what they want, that person experiences their significance.
Being empathetic assists us to offer words and deeds of courage and strength to others. Think of Jonah’s experience in Jonah 3:10-4:11. Jonah’s anger that the people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways and God changed God’s mind about destroying the people and city of Nineveh was not what Jonah wanted. Jonah told God he wanted to die and went outside the city and sat down. It was hot and God appointed a bush to give him shade. Jonah was glad. The next morning, God appointed a worm which came and ate the bush. When the sun came up and a wind came from the east and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, Jonah exclaimed that it was better for him to die than to live. God’s response was this. Jonah 4:9-10 reads,
“Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he [Jonah] said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lordsaid, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Fortitude is important because it demonstrates courage and strength. Jonah learned an important lesson about being authentic with God in all circumstances, even when God did a good thing for bad people who changed their ways.
Being authentic before God and others may appear to be optional. When we resist, however, it takes longer to experience empathy and be empathetic. This is the theme of Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Matthew 20:1-16.
Jonah 3:10-4:11 asserts that only after being authentic before God can we hear God’s response to choose a different approach.
Matthew 20:1-16 announces that a reversal in status and God being generous regardless of status is an outcome of listening well and being empathetic. Our love for God should not be determined by whether or not we feel we have benefitted from God. Nothing we have done determines our status or God’s generosity. Recall the workers in the vineyard. All received the same wage regardless of what time they started to work. The landowner can do what the landowner wishes to do, regardless what time of day a worker began. God is the landowner. All that is and what every human has belongs to God. This is the justification for a reversal of status and God’s generosity to all regardless of status. Jesus says in Matthew 20:15-16, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The public square interactions are focused on a reversal of status and God’s generosity to all regardless of status. What a great time for Christians to be authentic and empathetic.
Being authentic before God and others, regardless of what God has or hasn’t done for you and what others have or haven’t done for you matters. Being courageous and strong in your choices before God and others builds authentic character. Decisions, one at a time, that are courageous and strong builds a life of authenticity, one that is empathetic and is able to receive empathy. Fortitude is required to be authentic before God and others in good and bad times
Remember, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another…” On the one hand, when empathy is done with courage and strength, fortitude, it opens opportunities to embrace God and others even in times of disagreement. Shame, on the other hand, inhibits the ability to make choices with courage and strength. In this regard, Brene Brown in The Gifts Of Imperfection writes, “If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame.” To own God’s story of redemption, your story as a follower of Jesus and the story of our common humanity, it’s all about authenticity, not blame. Stop believing the lie of shame.
On this Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost remember the message of Jesus:
the outcomes of having your status reversed or God being generous regardless of status is good news. Choices of authentic faithfulness in good and bad times demonstrate courage and strength. When confronted with difficult public square interactions around racial equity, immigration, health care and gender equality, make authentic choices with fortitude, that is with courage and strength. Listen well. Be empathetic. Demonstrate care and tenderness, love and belonging. Exercise courage and strength. Reject shame. Make authentic choices to write God’s story of redemption, your story as a follower of Jesus and the story of our common humanity.
Mark Batterson, All In (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 119. The definition of fortitude provided is adapted from Mirriam-Webster, Dictionary.com and the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection (Center City, Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010), 53-54. In the three paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of Anathea E. Portier-Young, Pamela J. Scalise, Whitney Bodman and Shawnthea Monroe 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), 316-319, 319-321, 329-331 and 331-333. This definition of empathy is taken from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection, 54.