Compassion loves

July 18, 2021

Matthew 6:30-34, 53-56

Apathy is something we could all easily excel. These past 16 months have taught us how to be apathetic. It is easy to become overwhelmed and numbed by the events surrounding the pandemic and the world in general. Therefore, it is easy to find a nice, secluded place and have little to no feeling or emotion for the past months. We have witnessed this in the aftermath of September 11, where many people’s attention waned as the months went on. We have witnessed this more recently in mass shootings where there is broad concern at first and then as the shootings multiply, we just wonder where the next one will be.

Sympathy gets us a little closer in building relationships with those affected. When we have sympathy with one another, it brings us closer to a unity in which God hopes for us living. With sympathy, we may have pity for the person suffering, but we do not truly understand the suffering.

When we begin to have empathy for another person, we are getting even closer to the world in which God has intended. We can understand and share the feeling of those amid suffering. We find ourselves getting ever closer to the compassion of Jesus, which he never lets subside.

I am sure the apostles went through all these stages as they learned how to be in the world without Jesus. Jesus sent them out for the first time on their own at the beginning of chapter 6 in Mark’s gospel. They have now returned to Jesus in the opening verses from today’s lesson and they are eager to share with Jesus what they have done. It reminds me of the days I was completing my Clinical Pastoral Education in the hospital, and we had to return at the end of the day and share with our colleagues. Once a month we would even be required to present a verbatim, a word for word accounting of an interaction we had with a patient. In the hospital setting, it is difficult to build rapport with patients because hopefully they do not stay long. However, in the short time you have with each one, there is always room for compassion. The verbatims were not necessarily a tool to point out our faults or short comings. The verbatims were tools for us to learn about ourselves.

I picture the apostles sharing with Jesus all the people and different situations they encountered. Sharing about the people who rejected them. Sharing about the people they may have made strong connections. We are not told whether they had to present verbatims to Jesus. The apostles were sent out by Jesus to teach and heal. They were sent out by Jesus to learn compassion for people no matter where they were in life. I am sure when they returned, Jesus was proud of what they had accomplished and he continued to teach. I am sure Jesus also praised them for sharing of God’s love.

Compassion did not come easily to the apostles and there is no reason to think it would come easy for us. Yes, some people do tend to naturally be more compassionate. As much as it can be a gift, it can also be a trait we learn. It is not accomplished by showing one another how to be compassionate. Jesus sent the apostles out on their own so that they could experience first-hand how to walk with people and be in their suffering with them. Honestly, this is some of the best learning. I recall my times in Clinical Pastoral Education, and even parish ministry, when I had no clue what I was doing, yet the Spirit guided the way. In a way, it was baptism by fire.

Jesus knows this was hard work and the first thing he does for the apostles when they return is to present a gracious invitation. It is an invitation to “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Jesus knows the energy required to reach out and heal people. Jesus knows the fatigue of endless compassion. As he tries to get away in prayer, it seems there is always a crowd showing up. Even in today’s lesson, after Jesus invites the apostles to come away, they find themselves on the shore in Gennesaret with a crowd of people waiting to see them with the hopes of Jesus easing their suffering.

Jesus never says enough. Jesus never says, go find someone else. Jesus continues to reach out and heal every person who has come to him. Jesus is truly present to be with all who come to him in their suffering and makes them feel loved. This was the example the apostles had to look up to. Jesus’ life is the penultimate model for us when we want to reach out with love and compassion. Jesus is here for us. Can we be there for others?

We complicate compassion. We get in our own way. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and want to step away from it all. When we do, we close ourselves off to others and we fail to listen. Or we begin listening to the wrong messenger. You do not need to be in a position of power or authority to share in compassion with Jesus. All you need is the willingness to open your heart to this beautiful creation God has placed around us. The beautiful creation of humanity. The beautiful creation of nature. The beautiful creation found in the awe, mystery, and wonder of God. Being open to this beautiful creation, knowing Jesus is here with us.

These may ways to find compassion. However, the truth is, you cannot teach compassion.

Compassion is something you learn by living. Jesus’ entire ministry is one which revolves around compassion. Compassion for the apostles who are returning from their first outing of teaching and healing on their own. Compassion for the crowds gathered along the shore who just wish to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. No matter where, or how you find yourself, Jesus is present to offer compassion and love. In his compassion, Jesus walks with us in our suffering and showers us with a love which has no equal. May you learn and begin to embody the compassion in which Jesus has for all creation. May you have compassion for the neighbor and stranger alike. May you share the love of Christ with everyone you encounter.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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