It doesn’t take the shaking voice of Sally Struthers overlaid on images of starving children for most 21st century Americans to understand that there is a lot of suffering in this world. Even in a relatively affluent place like Bowling Green, those who never take the initiative to (literally) cross the railroad tracks are faced with the reality of poverty sitting outside the grocery store, on the corner near where they get their prescriptions filled, or playing a beat up instrument near the town square. Even among those who aren’t noticeably impoverished there are many who suffer silently with addition, mental illness, depression, broken relationships, unfulfilling work, and more.
In our Eucharistic Prayer C, which was last week referred to as the “leisure suit of liturgy” before being memorialized in amber for generations yet unborn (inside church stuff, sorry), we pray that our eyes might be open to see God’s hand at work in the world about us. For Christians, then, it seems prudent to see where God might be calling us to serve at any given moment. Our example in this work is Jesus, who in Sunday’s gospel lesson, despite searching for rest and refreshment, sees the crowds of people hungry for redemption and release and “has compassion on them.”
Now, it must be noted that there is a difference between seeing a need and wishing something could be done about it and actually having compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin compati which means to suffer with – to co-suffer. Having compassion doesn’t just mean that we watch others suffer as if we are seeing them through a TV screen, but rather, that we feel their pain, which should, if we are doing it right, motivate us to action. Here again, our role model is Jesus, who saw the crowds, had compassion on them and then he taught and healed them en mass. For Jesus, and for those who follow in his Way, compassion requires action.
As I read the lesson from Mark 6 this morning, I was reminded of that portion of the letter of James, wherein the author is admonishing his audience to live an active faith. “Faith without works is dead,” he writes. As an example, he posits this,
“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” – James 2:15-16
We who claim to be disciples of Jesus, who pray that God might open our eyes to see the world as God does, must be ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work – sharing the Good News in word and deed – for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God.