Come Hither: Kierkegaard's Gospel #3

Come hither to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, I will give you rest.

Over the next few days I’m going to be exploring Søren Kierkegaard’s exposition of the above verse as he writes in the opening chapter of his book Training in Christianity. While perhaps I wouldn’t read scripture in the same way he does, I have enjoyed his exploration of the call of Christ and the Gospel. Kierkegaard breaks down the verse and writes a short exposition after each point, and that is the pattern I plan to follow in these posts.

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

 “Come hither to me!” Wonderful! For human compassion does indeed do something for them that labor and are heavy laden. One feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, gives alms, builds charitable institutions, and, if the compassion is more heartfelt, one also visits them that labor and are heavy laden.

In July 1989 Diana Princess of Wales, internationally renowned sweetheart and globetrotting paparazzi magnet, wowed the public by opening the first AIDS centre in the United Kingdom. Though her career was cut tragically short, she was instrumental in de-stigmatising the condition, being photographed holding and kissing AIDS babies. She was masterful in using her position and influence to have tremendous impact all over the world.

More recently we hear the stories of Bill and Melinda Gates’ efforts to fight sickness and poverty the world over, investing in development and delivering solutions to millions of people. No doubt an incredible use of the vast wealth accumulated from the Microsoft founder and CEO.

Of course, it might be tempting to bask in our own warm glow of humanistic pity with a healthy dose of chronological arrogance, this is ignorance. Though we look at the work houses and primitive hospitals of the nineteenth century with contempt and embarrassment, we would do well to remember that these efforts were first attempts at mass welfare and care for the poor. Kierkegaard’s urban society, caught up in the industrial revolution, would have undoubtably had it’s philanthropists organising relief, visiting the slums and handing out food.

This is the face of human compassion: the compassion which looks into the face of the downtrodden and responds with mercy.

Yet Kierkegaard consistently sees Christ as more than a man. He is magnified in Kierkegaard’s sight when he calls out, coming even uninvited to give help to the needy. He is magnified when he empties Himself of all partiality, offering himself to all. And here, too, Kierkegaard encounters something more than human

…To invite them to come to us, that is a thing which cannot be done; it would involve a change in all our household and manner of life. It is not possible while one is living in abundance, or at least in joy and gladness, to live and dwell together in the same house, in a common life and in daily intercourse, with the poor and wretched, with them that labor and are heavy laden.

Diana, Bill and Melinda and the wealthy men and women of days gone by would not, indeed could not invite the poor to dwell with them. There is a distance, a distance of miles and money and social norms and culture. Kierkegaard points out these broader elements of human existence and we begin to understand something of the essential distance of Christ from man. In offering himself to all in the manner he did, it seems necessary that he would become like us. How else could he truly dwell with us? Would it not be like a household with the rich and their entourage, and in the next room the destitute and starving? No, to truly dwell in community requires more than just proximity. There must be unity.

Here perhaps one might begin to grasp something of the significance of Christ’s incarnation. To assume flesh and dwell among us (John 1) has a broader sense than merely wearing skin.

“Come hither to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” This He said, and they that lived with him beheld, and lo! there is not the very least thing in his life which contradicts it. With the silent and veracious eloquence of his deeds His life expresses…He is true to His word, He is what He says, and in this sense He is the Word.

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