“Until all of us come… to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
To attain the maturity of Christ, we have to go to “whole gospel discipleship.” How do we practice “whole gospel discipleship?”
In Matthew 9:35-36, Jesus looked at the crowds and had compassion on them. The word “compassion” is made up of two Latin words, “com” (with) and “passio” (feeling/suffering). Jesus looks at us and he suffers our pain as if it were His pain, feels our hopes and dreams as if they were His hopes and dreams. “Whole gospel discipleship” requires compassion.
Before Jesus had compassion, he first looked at the crowds. He looked into the hearts of the people around him and saw the roots of their pain and the true nature of their longing. The church does not have a problem with compassion; throughout the ages, suffering people have experienced Christian love. We do, though, often have a vision problem; we do not see what is actually going on with the crowds around us.
To practice whole gospel discipleship requires that we see through Jesus’ eyes. Jesus saw the immeasurable value of every human being; he saw the potential contributions that each could offer. He also saw the crowd. To see the crowd leads us to see problems and solutions differently. If you see one child struggling to learn in school and you have compassion, you tutor him. If you see several hundred children struggling in the same school, you begin to question the quality of the education being offered. When we see the crowd, we see the patterns that help us get at the root of the problem instead of attacking symptoms.
When Jesus had compassion, he gave everything that He had to give. What do we have to give? It is not enough to give our hearts. We also have to employ our minds. We need to love as intelligently and effectively as we can. Depending on the need, we sometimes give a fish and we sometimes teach people to fish. However, if someone knows how to fish but there is a wall around the pond, they still can’t feed their family.
As a missionary in the Philippines under the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, I learned to fully appreciate the gifts of democracy that we enjoy in the U.S. We have the right to participate in the process of public decision-making – to impact the decisions that affect the crowd, which put up the walls that inhibit opportunity. The gifts of democracy include voice, vote, and influence. At World Vision, we seek to be good stewards of our influence so that our leaders make decisions that create the best possible conditions for suffering to be alleviated and dreams fulfilled. Our commitment to relief, development, and advocacy is about whole gospel discipleship – letting the compassion of Christ lead us to the full range of effective actions that enable abundant life for all children.
Rev. Alexia Salvatierra is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with over 30 years of experience in ecumenical, multifaith and community ministry, community organizing, and legislative advocacy. For over 11 years, she was the executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. She currently serves as the director of justice ministries for the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and consults with national/international organizations, including World Vision, InterVarsity, Sojourners, the Christian Community Development Association, Auburn Theological Seminary and Interfaith Worker Justice.
She is the author of Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, published by InterVarsity Press.