Kindness. The ability to care for all people, whoever they are. The character trait of being radically others-focused.
Is it a lost art? Was kindness ever really all that prevalent?
I’m not sure, but my experience tells me that true kindness is so foreign to the typical human condition that most of us experience it (as giver or receiver) all too rarely. But the interesting irony is that when we finally do experience or hear about kindness, it is radically life-giving.
A few examples are in order:
- My mother-in-law recently complimented a stranger’s dress, which led to a several-minutes-long conversation that was mutually beneficial for my mother-in-law and the woman in the dress. They ended up talking and walking together for more than a block!
- This past weekend a football coach was on the way home from a game that his team won. It was raining like crazy when he saw two people who looked scared and lost. He pulled over and offered them a ride. The two men jumped in the coach’s SUV and over the ensuing conversation it became clear that the two strangers were fans of the team that lost to the coach’s team. Both of the strangers reported to the media that they were genuinely surprised by the kindness of the coach.
- Lastly, a friend recently told me of how having someone help him un-wedge his bag from a seat on a plane while he was trying to make his way to his seat renewed his faith in humanity.
Friends, the simple truth is that kindness really can go a long way. And, I think this is in part because we experience it so rarely.
However, each time we do experience it, it brings a smile to our faces like just about nothing else can.
So, here’s the big idea: As we are led by the Spirit, he will make us more and more kind. And as we are more kind people will be drawn to God, whether toward a closer relationship with his as followers of Jesus or toward beginning a relationship with him if they are far from God.
We see this in Jesus’ life very clearly in many places. One of my favorite places is in Mark 1.40-42:
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
What is meant by the first part of verse 41? Why was Jesus indignant?
- Some translations have “filled with compassion” instead of “indignant.” And while there are some ancient manuscripts that agree with that phraseology, “indignant” is the better reading. There are two reasons: 1) “indignant” generally appears in more reliable manuscripts than “full of compassion” does; and 2) the harder reading is to be preferred. Let me explain that second point. When there are two readings, both with some ancient manuscript support, the one that is harder to understand is thought to be more likely to be original. The reason? Well, the theory goes that if an ancient scribe came across “indignant” in this passage, he might think it doesn’t fit. And intentionally or not, he may change it to something that fits better, like “full of compassion.” So, based on these lines of reasoning, “indignant” is probably the right reading.
- So what do we do with this reading then? Was Jesus mad at the leper? No. This doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t fit with what we know about Jesus from the rest of this Gospel or the rest of the New Testament. Jesus is consistently kind to ostracized people, including several other people suffering with leprosy. Jesus being mad at the leper doesn’t fit in this particular story either. If Jesus was mad at him, why would he touch him (which was a great act of kindness…think about it!), have a conversation with him, and ultimately heal him?
- So what was Jesus indignant about? Here’s my take: Jesus was mad at the situation that leprosy had put this man in. His whole world had been crushed — he was separated from his family, friends, jobs, religious experiences, etc. He was isolated and desperate. In fact, his situation was so bad that he was relegated to begging from strangers for help. Jesus was indignant that a man who was made in God’s image and for whom he would soon die would be demeaned in such a way.
- So Jesus saw this man, treated him like a human, felt deeply about his situation, and then acted in order to bring about wholeness and health. That is a true act of kindness! Not a random act of kindness; no, an intentional act of kindness to a person who seemed to have randomly crossed his path.
We would do well to imitate Jesus! As we are led by the Spirit, whose pain and suffering do we need be be indignant about? To whom do we need to show kindness?
This next paragraph is the one paragraph that I hope to internalize more than all the others in this post: You and I can’t will ourselves to be more kind. We can’t and we know we can’t. We know that in our own strength we are going to act selfishly more often than we’d like to admit. So we must submit to the Spirit, listen for his lead, and then obey!
What do you think? How can we demonstrate kindness more and more as a result of being led by the Spirit? Let me know in the comments below!