"No Man Is An Island"

The Roman Catholic turned Anglican Englishman lawyer turned diplomat, preacher and poet, John Donne (1572-1631), composed these lines (from his collection Devotions upon Emergent Occasions):

No man is an island, 
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

There are those who either by personal subscription or personal behavior seem to believe that a nation like ours, a people like us, can live unto ourselves and let the world fend for herself. We hear shades of such a notion in the presidential campaign we must yet endure for two-plus more months. We see it in the embarrassing behavior of young American Olympians who in a drunken fit trashed a gas station in Rio a few nights ago, hiding behind a fabricated story of being held up by criminals, then attempting to flee the country before being caught by the authorities. The belated apology by the American swimmer Ryan Lochte only seemed to exacerbate the Brazilian anger over this “ugly American” incident, an anger perhaps mollified by news that Lochte has been dropped by four corporate sponsors (ostensibly for violating the morality clause in his contract).

“No man is an island,/entire of itself,/every man is a piece of the continent,/a part of the main.” We cannot live in isolation from the world around us, our self-righteous pretensions and self-serving behaviors notwithstanding.

The stark truth, made more provocative by the Incarnation, is that God himself refused the isolation alternative, choosing rather to immerse himself in the lazar house of this planet’s quarantined inhabitants than live without us:

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).   

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

When it dawns upon you that you are the object of so counter-cultural, so self-emptying a love as this—does it not follow (if it truly has dawned on you) that we are compelled by that very awareness to go out and in self-emptying deeds of service seek to love a world as undeserving as we?  “Freely you have received, freely give,” Jesus invites us (Matthew10:10). “For the love of Christ compels us,” Scripture reminds us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

In #RxF4Now—the new year series at Pioneer—his compelling love will stir us, perhaps as never before, I believe. I am praying.

Because Jesus and Donne are right:

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

 

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