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Compassion and the evils of the armchair

By Donna Jacobs Sife - posted Thursday, 13 April 2006

Peter Costello is fond of speaking about Christian values. It has puzzled me. What are these Christian values exactly, and do they exclude the values of other religions? Are they exclusive to Christianity alone?

In consideration of these questions I decided to do a little research. At first I looked for scriptures or commentary that supported the protection of one’s own borders, against the strangers and the orphans and the widows. But all I found were scriptures that spoke of compassion. Take Matthew 31 for instance.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.


Apparently the people were surprised.

... Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?

And Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

But the story takes a troubling turn. It continues with Jesus telling the other group who stood around him to “Go, with your curse of eternal fires upon you”.

The reason for this curse?

For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me drink, I was a stranger and you never made me welcome.


And when the people complained that they had never refused Jesus these things, he responded, “in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me”.

So I understand now that when we treat unfortunate people with compassion, it is as if we are treating God with compassion, and it is transformed into salvation.

Having been a regular visitor to Villawood Detention Centre, I presume this idea doesn’t have universal application, and I felt a bit nervous about the “curse” of which Jesus had spoken.

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About the Author

Donna Jacobs Sife is an award winning storyteller, educator and writer. She is skilled in drama, creative writing and does a lot of inter-religious work - interpreting ancient ideas into a relevant shape for a contemporary world.

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