“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them…”
Early in September 2022, more than three thousand people from all continents and Christian traditions gathered in Germany for the assembly that the World Council of Churches (WCC) holds every 8 years. They came together to celebrate unity in Christ, to recommit themselves to strengthening their fellowship and promoting reconciliation, justice and peace in the world for the glory of the triune God. The URC was properly represented. One of its ministers, Susan Durber, was elected WCC President for Europe.
The assembly theme gives a direction to the common life and mission of the churches gathered in a WCC assembly. The theme of last year’s assembly was “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”. Every morning, participants were invited to meditate on a passage from the gospels where Jesus felt and practised compassion for those “on the margins”. The first gospel text was Matthew 9:35-36, which says that Jesus saw the crowds and “had compassion for them”. In the Greek of the New Testament, this means that when he saw the crowds, he was deeply moved by their situation.
The struggle for the unity of the churches and for reconciliation and peace in the world may look sometimes an unrealistic, if not old fashioned, enterprise. However, what is at stake lies at the core of Jesus’ preaching of the age to come; gives sense to what we call “ecumenical movement”, and points to new, sustainable ways of living.
As we face global trends such as climate emergency, systemic economic injustice and the civilisational ambivalences engendered by the digital revolution of recent decades, we realise that our times and the world of future generations need friends of Jesus’ compassion, be them Christians, people of other spiritual traditions, or non-believers. This is what has been called an “ecumenism of the heart”.
God of Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Mary, grant us that by the power of your Holy Spirit, the giver of life, we may live for your glory counter-cultural lives of radical compassion as hopeful witnesses of your promise of a renewed creation. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whom we confess as fully divine because he was first experienced as fully human. Amen.
Odair Pedroso Mateus was lecturer in ecumenical theology at the WCC Bossey Ecumenical Institute (2004-2021); director of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order (2015-2022), and WCC deputy general secretary (2020-2022).