Talking Heads: 77 is the debut album by the rock band Talking Heads, released in September 1977. The single "Psycho Killer" reached #92 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. In 2003, the album was ranked #290 on Rolling Stone magazine's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. In his 1995 book, The Alternative Music Almanac, Alan Cross placed it in the #5 spot on his 10 Classic Alternative Albums list. The album was released by Sire Records in the UK and US and Philips Records throughout continental Europe. In 2005, it was remastered and re-released by Warner Music Group on their Warner Bros./Sire Records/Rhino Records labels in DualDisc format with five bonus tracks on the CD side. The DVD-Audio side includes both stereo and 5.1 surround high resolution (96 kHz/24bit) mixes, as well as a Dolby Digital version and videos of the band performing "Pulled Up" and "I Feel It in My Heart". In Europe, it was released as a CD+DVDA two disc set rather than a single DualDisc. The reissue was produced by Andy Zax with Talking Heads.The album was re-released on vinyl on April 18, 2009. "No Compassion" is track six on side one.
In a world
Where people have problems
In this world
Where decisions are a way of life
Other people's problems they overwhelm my mind
They say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time
So many people...have their problems
I'm not interested...in their problems
I guess I've...experienced some problems
But now I've...made some decisions
Takes a lot of time to push away the nonsense
Take my compassion...Push it as far as it goes
My interest level's dropping, my interest level is dropping
I've heard all I want to and I don't want to hear any more
What are you, in love with your problems?
I think you take it...a little too far
It's...not so cool to have so many problems
But don't expect me to explain your indecisions
Go...talk to your analyst, isn't that what they're paid for
You walk, you talk...You still function like you used to
It's not a question...Of your personality or style
Be a little more selfish, it might do you some good
In a world where people have problems
In this world where decisions are a way of life
Other people's problems, they overwhelm my mind
They say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time
Here we go again
"No Compassion" is a track about just that. Someone having no compassion for what is happening in the world or sympathy for others in their times of need. This track fits very well with the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritian. It's the dominant feeling that comes from the priest and the levite. The contrast is the dominant feeling that the samaritan has for the injured man on the road. Luke 10 tells the story once more.
A biblical name for the drying up of compassion is hardness of heart. The biblical images of hardening one’s heart are used to describe individuals and communities that have become blind to the pain and suffering of other people. Hardness of heart blocks grace and denies God’s spirit, which calls us to be compassionate in our personal conduct and to build compassion in our communities and institutions. When there is lack of compassion in societies, it is often perceived that God has abandoned His people. When the truth about Auschwitz concentration camp, the massacre of Hiroshima and the senseless killings in Vietnam was revealed, God was put on trial. Is God guilty of hardness of heart? Has God abandoned the world? Can there be authentic Christian faith that does not honestly wrestle with the agony of the human situation? What kind of God reigns in the midst of widespread hunger, poverty, and oppression ?
What does it mean to be a Christian in world that is subjected to a recession, a world that experiences an economic meltdown? The question of God’s hardness of heart or abandonment of this world can be a necessary step towards our involvement in the world as responsible Christians. World poverty, oppression and exploitation should put on trial both human compassion and our belief in an all powerful God. Because, Christians who seriously consider the reality of hunger, economic exploitation, and injustice, eventually meet a God who suffers. The agony of the world, reflected in the pain of the millions of starving children, causes God to suffer. The suffering of both the world and God is alleviated when I and you become instruments of healing, hope and justice. God works through our compassionate action. Conversely, God suffers, and hunger and injustice thrive when you and I lack compassionate action. And all of this Jesus demonstrate in a very practical way through a parable.
I have heard several sermons on this parable and I am sure that some of you have even heard more. But I am almost certain that the majority of these sermons concluded with the appeal to be nice to other people. People have too narrow a definition of compassion. Compassion seems bound by the familiar, the noncontroversial. Definitions of compassion is nearly always associated with personal relationships and divorced from social problems such as oppression and economic exploitation. It is in this context that we need to consider the response of Jesus when one of the scribes who “desiring to justify himself” ask Jesus “and who is my neighbour”. Jesus responds with a description of a real-life situation.
Many of the priests who served in the temple in Jerusalem lived in Jericho. Some of them were returning home after completing their duties in the temple. Robberies were common along the road to Jericho. A priest and a Levite come across a victim who was robbed and passed by on the other side of the road. But the Samaritan, when he saw him, he was moved with pity, and went to him and bandaged his wounds…and took care of him. But what is it that Jesus is saying to us through this parable?
Firstly, the parable of the Good Samaritan is not about being good or bad; it is a story about compassion. We often interpret the meaning of this parable from the perspective of one of the characters e.g. the Samaritan, the Levite or the priest. The problem with such an interpretation is that we individualise and personalise the meaning of the parable and therefore loose much of what it is saying. We either bask in the false glory of self-righteousness behaviour or we sink deeper into guilt, which reinforces our sense of our own worthlessness. The truth is that we are all of the characters in the story: scribe, priest, Levite, Samaritan, and victim. Each one of us is capable of denying or giving birth to compassion.
Secondly, Jesus defines neighbour in a far broader sense than the scribe expected. The Jews could not imagine a good or compassionate Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were enemies. The example of a compassionate Samaritan was repulsive to the scribe. When Jesus asks: “Who proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” the scribe could not bring himself to use the word “Samaritan”. He instead said “the one who had mercy on him”. Jesus, by using a compassionate Samaritan in the story, is telling the scribe that the breaking into history of God’s kingdom involves a redefinition of neighbour.
Thirdly, Jesus gives the term “neighbour” the force of a verb. The neighbour is someone who seeks out others in need, he “neighbours” them. Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutièrrez wrote: “The neighbour was the Samaritan who approached the wounded man and made him his neighbour. The neighbour … is not he whom I find in my path, but rather in whose path I place myself, he whom I approach and actively seek”. Being a neighbour implies action. We create a neighbourly relationship between ourselves and others through compassionate action. Compassion or neighbourliness is not simply a matter of sentiment or good intentions. It involves action that seeks to effectively alter the situation of those who are in need. The Samaritan “had compassion … bound his wounds … set him on his own donkey … brought him to an inn … took care of him … and gave” money to the innkeeper. We become neighbours through compassionate action.
Fourthly, in the parable Jesus tells us that it is easier to be compassionate with those whom we know well or who are similar to us. Conversely, it is more difficult to be compassionate with those who are racially, economically, nationally or otherwise different. Jews despised Samaritans; they were considered as being racially inferior. Jews did not consider Samaritans their neighbours. “Crossing over to the other side of the road” can be a metaphor for distancing ourselves from the claims of others on our humanity. Suburban development is a means by which middle-and upper-class families physically separate themselves from the poor. Ideology is an effective tool of separation. The word “communist” distort debate about key issues. Racism and sexism are other common ways of keeping individuals and groups of people “out”. So it is clear that we have become very creative in creating vehicles that can take us "to the other side of the road", to justify our indifference, our aloofness towards the poorest of the poor, one of the most vulnerable category of workers. Against this backdrop of physical, ideological and sociological separation from the poor, the parable of the compassionate Samaritan reminds us that compassion means identification with the needs and humanity of our neighbours. Samaritans were despised, ridiculed, abused, and oppressed. Perhaps his own daily experiences of oppression made the Samaritan in Jesus’ story more likely to be in tune with the needs of someone who was beaten and left for dead on the road to Jericho. Jesus’ call to compassionate action cuts through stereotypes of race, culture, and ideology, and affirms our common humanity, our oneness with God.
Fifthly, compassion is not something that can be legislated. Levites and priests were religious professionals. They are expected to be models of the faith. Even though all of them, including the Samaritan, lived under the Torah, only the Samaritan acted compassionately. There is no indication that the Samaritan acted out of a sense of duty. The point is not that laws are bad or that Jesus was opposed to the law. Jesus was a Jew who had great respect for Jewish law. However, Jesus opposed legalism, which violates the spirit and intent of the laws of God which was meant to encourage justice and compassion. Jesus understood that laws can be circumvented, ignored, or interpreted inflexibly. Compassion and the situation of the neighbour, on the other hand, daily implore believers to open their hearts to the pain of others and respond to their situation with compassionate action. Laws are important but they cannot of themselves overcome hardness of heart or ensure justice. Most of the economic policies that result in widespread hunger are legal. Despair, indifferences, callousness, and selfishness can be legal. Fair and equitable legal systems are a necessary component of justice but they are not a substitute for compassion.
Sixthly, compassion is risky, it can be dangerous. Compassion demands emotional and physical risk. We need to rip open our conscience and explore our complicity in the suffering of others. Those of us who are adequately fed should acknowledge our fear of being victims. We should also be honest and say that we are glad that we are not hungry but that we often express our gratitude in ways that are fearful and self-centred rather than compassionate. One reason why we are afraid to take risks for others is our enslavement to a sense of powerlessness and guilt. We assume inadequacy of our response to complicated issues such as hunger, evictions, poverty and injustice and thereby condemn ourselves and others to self-fulfilling prophecies of gloom.
Compassion may involve risky bodily harm as well as emotional distress. There are lots of examples of how “good Samaritans” who dared to intervene to help others are themselves beaten, killed or jailed. For example there is Dietrich Boenhoeffer a German Lutheran pastor who was hanged by the Nazi regime because of his attempts to save the lives of the Jews during World War II. To the point where he even participated in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Some of you will remember Corrie Ten Boom, the woman from Netherland who worked with the Dutch underground to save the lives of the Jews during World War II. She continues to save the Jews even when she knew that was under surveillance. In the end she and the rest of her family were arrested. Her father died 10 days after the arrest in prison. Her brother died shortly after his release from prison due to sickness that he got in the prison. Her sister died in the concentration camp. The Ten Boom family showed compassion. Sacrificial Compassion. They paid the price.
According to Lev 21:11 "a high priest must not enter a place where there is a dead body. He must not make himself unclean, even for his father or mother". Maybe the priest was afraid that the "half dead" victim was dead and by toughing him, he might be compromised. His position as a priest might be in jeopardy. To show compassion might be risky. There might be a price to pay. But how can we still consider our sacrifices when Jesus did not hesitate to pay with His life for my soul because He showed compassion for you and for me. In the weeks, months and years to come, our faith will be tested, our brand of Christianity will challenged.