Lent: The virtues of Cruciformity

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” 

― Plato

Lent is the journey of transformation that aligns us with the life of Christ as it shapes our personal narrative. The pathway toward the Passion week has traditionally focussed on some form of sacrifice or fasting, a laying down of our privilege in order to identify with the sacred mantra of Jesus, “take up your cross and follow me”

During this lenten season, rather than trying to restrain my entitlement I have been challenged to consider the ‘virtues of cruciformity’ that dominate the gospel stories of Jesus’ life. Rather than fasting something, I am attempting to be more considerate and helpful to those around me.  The virtues of  kindness, compassion, generosity and inclusivity, to name just a few, are divine attributes that echo in our hearts as ethical reminders of what it means to be fully human.

My guiding question of my Lent season is: How can I be more present and aware of the space that I find myself in, open and willing to respond to the needs before me?

In the gospel narratives they all record the story of ‘feeding the five thousand’ a miraculous moment of sharing that captures the beauty of ‘compassion’ at work. 

Compassion is a virtue that undergirds the heart-felt need of human sharing and caring, an overwhelming rush of emotion that motivates us to respond to the immediate need in front of us. The  adrenaline that arises in that moment animates our lives with energy and zeal beyond what we ever thought possible. So much so that it ushers in a corporate engagement that exponentially enlarges our individual contribution. 

The gospel text says that when Jesus ’sees’ the people he was moved with compassion to offer some kind of remedial help. This compelling prompt of divine identification becomes the new benchmark for incarnational interaction, the coming together of heart and hands to embrace the other.  This very pragmatic gospel story of empathy becomes a universal calling to all those who wish to take the time to notice and respond to the basic needs of the human condition. How I view people will ultimately determine my proactive intentions. 

‘There is no them only us’  - Bono

Compassion does not see people based on some kind of preferential treatment, its lack of bias and partiality reminds us that it is available to all at any one time. Compassion as a metaphor for God cannot be restrained by our religious or social constructs, lest we become deceived into thinking that the divine has a elite group of people that are favoured more than others. The only people that seem to attract divine favour are those who are at their most vulnerable at any given time.

The unorthodox nature of empathy is that it finds a way to address the immediacy of the now by creatively imagining what can be done with what is available. It doesn’t need a lot to make a difference. By the time the fourth gospel of John comes along we see the inclusion of a ‘boy’ in the script, a little human who reminds us that the miraculous moments in life come through the most unassuming and unlikely of candidates. Perhaps it give us all the courage and confidence to realise that what I am and have is enough in order to make a difference.

The most unique highlight in the story is when Jesus breaks up the fish bread and places a portion into the baskets that each disciple had  [side-thought: I wonder where they got the baskets from?]  and told THEM to pass the food out. The conventional reading of this text has Jesus performing a creative miracle but what if the miracle actually occurs as the disciples respond with generous hospitality?

Compassion has a miraculous component that is activated in our lives as we enter into the mystery of its reach. Compassion is more than emotional response, it is a divine nudge to open your hands and watch how God multiplies the little you have. The hyperbolic ending of this story has the disciples picking up 12 baskets of leftovers. I often wonder if this is not so much about the food itself but a reminder to us that compassion is a never ending supply of generosity that is continuously available to those who allow it to incarnate in their lives. 

'To be in Christ is to be a living exegesis of the narrative of Christ, a new performance of the original drama’  - Michael J. Gorman

Greg Burson