Jesus was Tired

It is hard for me to believe, but it has been more than two years since the candidates for the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast took part in the walkabout portion of the discernment process.  Over the course of several days, the candidates traveled around the diocese attending a series of large gatherings in which they were invited to answer questions, many canned, so that we might be able to get to know them a little better.   The folks from St. Paul’s in Foley attended the event in Daphne, which was the fifth and final event in a rugged week for these candidates.  I remember being glad that I was able to attend this final walkabout meeting because I wanted to see how my future bishop might behave at the end of a long week.  “I need a bishop who can take my call at 5pm on a Friday when I’ve just learned the treasurer has been embezzling money,” I told one person.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is that the ministry of a bishop means long hours, lots of personal interaction, and the ability to be “on” at the drop of a hat.  All four candidates seemed to handle the situation pretty well, and I left feeling like we would be in good hands with any of them at the helm.

When preaching on Sunday’s Gospel lesson, most preachers will focus on the narrative of Jesus and the woman at the well – with good reason – but this morning, still fighting through the haze of last night’s nighttime cold medicine caplet,  I’m struck by the context that John spells out for his readers.  “Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.”  Jesus was tired out by his journey.  Not only does this detail do the hard work of humanizing Jesus, a noble task in John’s lofty and cosmic Gospel, but it also gives us a lens through which we see the rest of the story.  When Jesus rather curtly demands a drink from the woman at the well, we are more apt, I think, to brush it off because he was tired.  And maybe we read the story of this deep encounter between Jesus and the woman with more awe because of how spot on Jesus seems to be, even in the midst of his exhaustion.

starbucks-jesus

Just as I needed a bishop who could do the hard work of ministry when s/he was tired, so too I appreciate the Messiah who, though worn out by the journey, is still ready to show love and compassion.  It is dangerous to moralize Jesus’ behavior since we can never actually be like Jesus, but I think this detail is a helpful reminder to all of us who represent Christ in the world that even when we feel like we need to hide away for a while, even when we are tired and ready for a break, even when we would rather do anything else but be around God’s beloved and hurting people, we are called to love, to show compassion, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ both by our words and through our actions.

Blessed are the merciful

In 2011, the state of Alabama passed a draconian immigration reform bill.  HB56 was designed to make sure “illegal meant illegal” and it was as wide reaching as it was uninformed.  Some of the provisions of the bill, which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional, included making it illegal for a landlord to rent to an undocumented immigrant; schools were required to check the immigration status of all their students; and from my perspective as a priest, giving aid in the form of money or a ride to an undocumented person became a punishable offense.  In Foley, where we lived at the time, the law struck fear into the hearts of many.  Mothers would tearfully ask teachers to take care of their children if they were arrested during the school day.  Children were afraid to get on the bus, unsure if anyone would be home when they go there.  It was heartbreaking.

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TKT and I knew the limits of our ability to speak out on such things.  Not only because the IRS has strict rules about political comments by churches and non-profit organizations, but because our membership, like many Episcopal congregations, included people from the tea-party on the right to occupy democrats on the left.  But this situation felt different.  This was no longer about political opinions, which are as common as butt-holes and smell about the same, this particular issue cut to the heart of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And so we spoke out, calling our people to stand up for what was right, to show God’s love to everyone, especially those children from FES who were so scared, and letting them know that we would continue to show mercy to those who were in need, whether they could prove they were in this country legally or not.  It was what we were called to do as followers of Jesus.

During his inaugural sermon in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples the basics of blessedness.  Among the items on that list are things to which we might be called for a season: mourning, meekness, and persecution, for example.  Others are things to which I believe all disciples are called to seek at all times: a hunger for righteousness, peacemaking, and especially, showing mercy.

We live in a time in which being merciful has gone out of fashion.  “Illegal is illegal,” “drill baby drill,” “build the wall,” are a part of our common life.  We casually throw others under the bus be they single mothers in need of help to buy milk and bread or business executives looking to maximize their own return on investment.  We have, by all accounts, list sight of what it means to show mercy, to offer compassion, and to see the good in one another.  And as a result, we’re seeing more and more draconian legislation and, in recent days, executive orders, coming down from on high, demanding that we show less and less mercy to the vulnerable among us.

In the beatitudes, Jesus admonishes us to stand up against such things, to show mercy to the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed.  In the beatitudes, Jesus declares God’s blessing on those who seek after the heart of God, God who came in the form of a baby, born in a stable to an unwed mother in first century Palestine.  We who claim to be disciples of Jesus, we who claim God’s blessings of forgiveness and grace, we who have received mercy, are called to show mercy to all because God cares not just about those who are in power, but especially for those who are the most vulnerable.  We are blessed when we show mercy, and now, more than any time I can remember, we have ample opportunity to show it.

Boarderlands

In the northeast of France there is a small sliver of land known to history as Alsace-Lorraine.  Known for it industrial strength in the latter half of the 19th century, Alsace-Lorraine became a coveted piece of property for the Germans who ultimately took it from France after winning the Franco-Prussian War. For 47 years, from 1871 until 1918, it was a part of the German Empire.  For most of that time, Germany ruled Alsace-Lorraine with great attention, for fear of losing it back to France.  After World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, France reclaimed its territory, but realizing that 47 years and some continued German interest during World War was enough to establish some pretty distinct habits, the French government gives Alsace-Lorraine a lot of autonomy, allowing local law to reign.   Such is the messiness of a borderland.

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While on his way from Galilee, where much of his teaching took place, to Jerusalem, where he would be betrayed, tortured, crucified, and buried, Jesus and his disciples had to pass through the unseemly territory of the Samaritans.  Like Alsace-Lorraine, Samaria was something of a disputed territory.  The Samaritans were descendants of the Jews, but were those who had been left behind in the Babylonian Exile.  They married those outside of Judaism, they adjusted their worship in light of the destruction of the Temple, and because of that, they were resoundingly hated by the Jews.  That this unclean territory existed between Galilee and Judea meant that there was a wide swath of borderland to pass through as one traveled between the two.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus precisely in that messy place; en route to Judea, he is somewhere between Galilee and Samaria.  To make matters worse, and to clarify that he really was in no man’s land, Jesus and his disciples happen upon a leper colony.  In all of history, there might be no more an in-between place than a leper colony on the border between the Jews and the Samaritans.  You might not want to waste as much time as I have on this borderland thing, but the placement of this story geographically is worth noting.  The preacher might want to help her congregation see just how “out there” Jesus is in this moment because while we read this story as being about forgiveness, if we focus on  Jesus, then this story is all about crossing boundaries.

With compassion, Jesus reaches across the boundaries of geography, of politics, of religion, in order to care for those who have been permanently placed in no man’s land.  They have been removed from society.  They no longer have an identity beyond “leper.”  Note that the tenth leper who returns to give thanks isn’t identified as a Samaritan until after his healing takes place.  These lepers weren’t even considered human beings.  And yet, Jesus sees them.  He treats them as worthy of love and care.  In that place of in-betweeness, Jesus heals them, restores their humanity, and makes them whole.

We are They – a sermon

My Palm Sunday sermon is now on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.


They are powerful and influential people.  They maintain that power and influence even though nobody really knows who they are.  They say it is going to rain, and so we throw an umbrella in the car.  They say that eggs are bad for us, so we quit eating them.  Two years later, they say that eggs are good for us, and so we start buying them again.  More recently, they’ve had the most exciting news yet, they now say that a glass of red wine is as good for our hearts as an hour at the gym.  They aren’t always right, and yet, whoever they might be, when they speak, people listen.

Jesus knew this reality all too well, for they had accused him of all sorts of things.  They said he was a blasphemer, placing himself on par with the Lord God.  They claimed that he was leading an insurrection against Rome.  They told Pilate that he alleged to be the King of the Jews.  When Pilate couldn’t find any reason to execute him, they fought back.  They cried out for Jesus to be crucified while Barabbas, a murder, was set free.  They dragged him through the streets of Jerusalem.  They cheered as he was nailed to a cross.  They derided him as he hung there and died.  Yet in the midst of all of that, even as he was suffering through extreme pain and suffocating agony, Jesus still had compassion on them.  “Father forgive them,” Jesus said surveying the angry mob that was gathered around him, “For they know not what they do.”

They are powerful and influential people, and as the story of Jesus’ crucifixion played out, they wielded every bit of power and influence they could, but Jesus had mercy upon them.  As this Holy Week unfolds before us, it would be easy to condemn them for what they did.  The Gospel stories were written in a time when the struggle between the Jewish community and the fledgling church were bitter and raw, and because of that they are full of anti-Semitic rhetoric meant to make sure that we know what they did. The hard truth is that from time to time, all of us are a part of them.  We are they, even though we really don’t want to be.

They dehumanized Jesus by turning him into a laughing stock.  They blindfolded him, beat him, and laughed as they asked, “Prophesy! Who struck you?”  They cloaked him in a purple robe and crowned him with a crown of thorns, mocking him and shouting “Hail, King of the Jews!”  They stripped him naked and hanged him high on a cross for all the world to see.  The ridiculed him, asking where his Father was to save him; scoffing at how he had saved many others, but he couldn’t manage to save himself.

As much as we’d like to believe we wouldn’t have taken part in that sort of dehumanizing behavior, we continue to do so in ways that are both intentional and unintentional.  Every time we look with disdain upon the mother using a WIC check to buy milk for her children, we are they.  Every time we clutch our purse a little tighter when a black man walks by, we are they.  Every time we feel that twinge of anxiety when an Arab looking couple gets on our airplane, we are they.  Every time we share a politically incendiary, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or anti-Muslim thought on Facebook, by email, or even over drinks with friends, we are they.  Every time we fail to see Christ in the other, we are they.  Yet even as we engage in these dehumanizing activities, Jesus looks at the angry mob around him and has compassion on us saying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

They are powerful and influential people, but the love of God is stronger still.  The compassion of Jesus from the cross is more powerful and more influential than any angry mob, any dehumanizing behavior, and group of they or we.  As we walk the Way of the Cross this week, I pray that you might take the time to meditate on two truths.  First, because we are they who mock, ridicule, and dehumanize the Son of God, we are in desperate need of a savior.  And second, through his compassionate word of forgiveness from the cross, Jesus is precisely that savior that we so desperately need.  By taking the time to contemplate these realities, the Way of the Cross can become for each of us the way of life and peace.  We are they: powerful and full of influence; but the compassion of God is stronger, the forgiveness of God is stronger, the love of God is stronger than the worst parts of us.  Amen.

A Failure to Encourage

In yesterday’s post, I imagined what it might look like if we followed the advice of the author of Hebrews and made a habit of getting together, i.e. showing up at church on Sunday.  In seminary, we learned that 90% of ministry is simply showing up, but what about the other 10%?  Our author goes on to describe the antithesis of “neglecting to get together” as “encouraging one another.”  Like his admonition to show up, this is sound advice that the author is giving his community, and by extension, us: sound advice that we fail to follow.

You see, Christianity has a huge, self-inflicted, PR problem.  Christians tend to be awful to one another.  Take, for example, this week’s 24 hour news cycle, social media, over-reaction du jour:

The Starbucks Red Cup Catastrophe of 2015!

If you want to see what a failure to encourage looks like, then follow the conversation thread around Starbucks decision to use plain red cups this (ridiculously extended) holiday season.  Here’s how every one of these self-inflicted wounds happens, be it Gene Robinson in 2003 or red cups in 2015.

  1. Something happens.  In this case, it was the launch of Starbucks’ annual holiday cup, this time with no symbols, no patterns, nothing but the green Starbucks logo on a plain red cup.
  2. Someone gets offended.  Here it was (allegedly) conservative Christians who saw it as another salvo in the War on Christmas™ and (again allegedly) called for boycotts and protests.
  3. Some responds. Liberal Christians began to talk smugly about the foolishness of their brothers and sisters in Christ: suggesting that they had their head in the sand about the bigger problems we face.
     Adoption seemed to be a favorite meme this time around.
  4. Someone else responds.  Moderate Christians took to the airwaves to self-righteously decry the smug response of the liberal Christians and point out how it would have been better to stay out of the fray at all.
  5. Steve writes a blog post.  Here I am, typing with righteous indignation about the self-righteous moderates venting about the smug liberals who are frustrated at the offended conservatives.
  6. Jesus loses.  Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks on as Christians fail miserably at encouragement by gutting each other as foolish, smug, self-righteous jack asses and say, “Can you believe the hypocrisy of those who claim to follow Jesus?”  The task of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes exponentially more difficult every time we fall in to this unfortunate and predictable pattern.

So what should we do instead?  Just as we need to relearn the habit of regular worship attendance, we need to also reclaim the habit of encouraging one another.  As James puts it in his letter, we need to learn to act with gentleness born of wisdom.  That is to say, we need to learn to stop and think before we react and speak.  We need to resist the temptation, that comes straight from the pit of hell, to look down our noses at our sister and brother in Christ.  We need to remember that the other we are fixing to disparage is a beloved child of God, deserving of our encouragement, care, and compassion – a neighbor whom we are commanded to love.  Encouraging one another might only be 10% of the job, but it has a huge impact on how the world sees us.  Let’s always err on the side of love.

The Hope of the Poor

My number one goal over the course of my sabbatical this summer was to write a first draft of my Doctor of Ministry thesis for the Advanced Degree Program at the School of Theology at the University of the South.  Having successfully completed that goal, I began to look back on the other accomplishments of my time away.  I gained 10 pounds, which probably wasn’t good, but it was the direct result of good times with family and friends, so that’s OK.  I learned I need to find a hobby, and I’m working on becoming a disc golfer.  Tops on the list of “other accomplishments” however, is my return to the Daily Office.  It still feels weird to read the assumed to be done in community offices of the Church alone at my desk, but I’m finding a newfound comfort in it, and I’m glad to be reminded of those great phrases that pervaded my mind during seminary.

This morning, as I continue to struggle over which widow I’m going to preach about on Sunday, I was struck by the penultimate versicle and response in the Rite II Suffrages A.
V. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

Both the Widow at Zerephath and the widow who gave her last seem to be at a point where their hope has been taken away.  What is interesting, however, is that what is used as a call and response prayer is actually a promise in its original context of Psalm 9.  The most recent edition of the New International Version (2011) makes this clear in their translation of Psalm 9.18, “But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”

If this is true, and tend to think that it is, then these stories of the two widows are less stories of their willingness to give sacrificially and more stories of their ongoing hope in God’s willingness to never forget them.  The young Widow at Zerephath was almost certainly not a Jew, and yet she had faith in the provision promised by some strange prophet of a foreign god.  The Widow who gave her last, despite being manipulated by a corrupt system, gave those last two copper coins away, she literally gave her whole life away, confident that the Lord would not forget her in her poverty.

In the end, then, these are both stories of God’s abundant grace for those deemed outside the realm of God’s grace.  One was an ethnic outsider, the other a cultural one, but both were faithful in light of God’s promise to care for them.  We who are thought to be on the inside, who profess to be followers of the Way of Jesus, are invited to a) have the same sort of faith and b) join with God in sustaining the poor no matter their circumstances.  That’s why we pray those words with regularity, “Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; nor the hope of the poor be taken away” or “don’t let me forget the needs of others, O God; don’t let me be complicit in a system that crushes their very hope.”

Open Wide Your Hearts

One of my colleagues in the Doctor of Ministry program here at the School of Theology is hoping to look at the various emotions displayed in Paul’s writings to try to elucidate what was really important to Paul as he wrote, and what maybe we’ve deemed important that wasn’t.  I find it to be a fascinating project idea, but as one who isn’t too in tune with his emotions, it seems like a lot of hard work mixed with a good bit of speculation.  Of course, there are moments in reading Paul when what he’s thinking just seems obvious, and the lesson from 2 Corinthians appointed for Proper 7, Year B seems to be one of those times.  This section of 2 Corinthians 6 is, without a doubt, serious Paul imploring the Church in Corinth to genuine faith, which involves, much to my chagrin, real vulnerability.

“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return– I speak as to children– open wide your hearts also.”

Paul has, in his words, opened his heart wide to the Corinthians.  He has risked everything for the sake of the Gospel, that the whole world might come within Christ’s saving embrace.  The response of the believers in Corinth seems to be lukewarm.  They are holding back, keeping things from coming into the light of God’s love, and Paul knows that closed off faith is no faith at all.  “Open wide your hearts,” he begs them, “welcome Jesus and his love fully into your hearts, your lives, your families, your whole community.”

This admonition is a good word for me to hear one week before I get on an airplane headed to General Convention.  There are lots of things from which I would like to close myself off, but if any part of me is closed off, all of me is.  As we gather in Salt Lake City, there will be many opinions, lots of politics, and a few frayed nerves, but if we all enter with our hearts open wide, if we all accept vulnerability and admit our weakness, then perhaps a spirit of grace might enter the Salt Palace like has never been experienced before.

Vulnerability is hard.  It requires a level of trust that many of us are incapable of.  It requires a type of forgiveness many of us can’t fathom.  It is risky, just ask Paul, but it is part of what makes true Christian community, and true community should be the goal of all who seek to further the Kingdom of God.  With God’s help, I’ll come to Salt Lake City with an open heart, and I hope the rest of us will as well.

More than Words

On last night’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy was joined by Jack Black in a shot for shot remake of the classic jam, “More than Words” by Extreme.  Take four minutes to watch it, it’ll make your day.

Did you watch it?  Did you pay attention the lyrics?  I hope so, because they work perfectly with the main theme in Sunday’s lessons: love is a verb.  Both the reading from First John and the Gospel lesson explicitly say that loving God means keeping Jesus’ commandments.  In case you forgot, Jesus summed up his entire teaching, all the law, and the prophets, in two commandments.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

The kind of love Jesus is talking about requires a lot more than words: it requires a lifetime worth of actions.  Or as the writers of “More than Words” put it:

More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
Cause I’d already know

Showing the love of God for the world is at least as important, if not even more so, than telling the world about it.  Following Jesus means loving our neighbors until they ask why, and it means loving them enough to have an answer ready when they do.  Following Jesus means reaching out in compassion, caring for the needy, and respecting the dignity of every human being.  Following Jesus means abiding in a love that is deeper than mere words: the very love of God.

Who would like to be healed?

Perhaps the better question is “who wouldn’t like to be healed?”  In this Sunday’s passage from Mark, we find Jesus in Capernaum after his first sermon and the casting out of a demon in the Synagogue.  That all happened on the Sabbath, but Mark doesn’t indicate that there is any controversy about that particular Sabbath healing.  He is, however, clear to note that what happens next, happens “at sundown.”  The Sabbath is over when the whole town turns up at Simon Peter’s mother-in-law’s house for help.  The construction of the NRSV is interesting to me.  “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.”

As I read the passage this afternoon, I began to wonder, was the whole city in need of healing?

Biblical Greek didn’t utilize capitalization or punctuation and word order wasn’t really a thing.  What we have is the best guess of the scholars doing the work of translation as to what the original authors meant.  What that means, however, is that we can’t be sure that we’ve got the full meaning of the text before us.  Young’s Literal, a late 1800s translation that I just learned was licensed to BibleWorks by The Institute for Creation Research, a Dallas-based non-profit and “a leader in scientific research within the context of biblical creation,” which means I may never use it again, translates Mark 1:32-33 in this way, “And evening having come, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all who were ill, and who were demoniacs, and the whole city was gathered together near the door…”  For what its worth, the Greek uses as series of “kai’s” (and) to string together verses 32-44, so that they read, “and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this…”

If Jesus showed up in my town, and started healing people, you can bet that everyone would be there in search of some help.  When we’re honest with ourselves, don’t all of us, on some level, wish we could be healed?  Some wish to be healed of physical infirmities, some want healing from disease, some need healing from mental anguish, or the pain of the past, or the fear of the future, or the hurts of the now.  Everyone could use the healing touch of Jesus in their lives.  He may not still be walking the earth, but we are, and if we truly believe that the Church is the body of Christ, then part of our responsibility is to do his work of healing in the world around us.  It isn’t easy work, and we won’t always be successful, but with the help of the abundance of God’s grace, we take our place in a long line of healing ministers and act as the hands, heart, and ears of Christ.

The Guts of Compassion – a sermon

You can listen on the Saint Paul’s website or read on. Apologies to Evan and the others who will loss out because I couldn’t get footnotes to transfer.

If you read my blog, then you already know that I’ve been obsessed with the word “compassion” this week. I tried to escape it, but it just kept calling me back in, deeper and deeper. This is probably explained by the fact that the word shows up three times in our lectionary texts this week, but more likely it is because this week has been rife with opportunities to feel compassion: Investigators trying to get to the wreckage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 were turned back for four straight days to due civil war and the threat of land mines; a young girl and her father died after being hit by a plane while walking Venice Beach; one of the leading Ebola specialists in the world died from the disease; fighting continues to rage in Gaza; and the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) is killing scores of Christians and destroying thousand year old shrines every day. There used to be a bumper sticker that read, “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.” These days it could read, “If you aren’t moved with compassion, you might be dead.”
As I spent this week thinking about compassion, I began to realize that it was one of those words that gets a lot of use in the wider culture, but like love, charity, hope, and narthex, I wasn’t sure I knew what it actually meant. When asked what compassion means, most of us would probably say something like “caring for other people” or “responding to someone’s hurt.” We tend to think about actions that can be taken in the name of compassion: texting a $10 donation to the Red Cross after a natural disaster, donating blood for a friend who’s been in an accident, or packing hygiene supplies for the homeless. The more I read and prayed and thought about compassion this week, however, the more I realized that compassion is something much deeper. You haven’t heard much etymology from the pulpit in a while, so you’ll have to bear with me for a moment.
You can blame the next 150 words or so on my friend and partner in Bible Blogging, Evan Garner, who did some research earlier this week and found out that the Greek word which gets translated as “compassion” in today’s Gospel lesson shares the same root word as “spleen” or “bowels” and literally means “to be disturbed in one’s guts.” Just as at one time, love was thought to actually flow from the heart, compassion, love, and pity were, in the ancient world, associated with the intestines, a feeling that bubbled up from down deep within. Then there is the English word “compassion” which has its root in the Latin word “compati” that means “to suffer with.” As Evan put it, “Suffer, in that sense, has to do with feeling something or to be affected by something—not just to endure the pain and trial of a situation. If I suffer with you, it means I am touched by your circumstance. I cry when you cry. I rejoice when you rejoice.”
That text message to 90999 that gives $10 to the American Red Cross was a nice gesture, but I’m afraid to tell you, it wasn’t compassion. Compassion means more than just responding to someone else’s hurts, but rather to actually enter into their pain, to feel it in your being, and to minister to them from the midst of that struggle. Compassion is hard. Compassion requires us to give of ourselves beyond our normal ability to do so. In the story of the Feeding of the 5000, were told Jesus was moved with compassion, which given the circumstances, might be an understatement.
Our Gospel lesson this morning begins with a curious turn of phrase, “When Jesus heard this, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Did you wonder what “this” was referring to? It is always difficult when a lesson begins with a pronoun whose direct antecedent isn’t included. The “this” that Jesus heard was that his cousin and co-conspirator in the Kingdom, John the Baptist had had his head served up on a platter by Herod the puppet king of Galilee. When Jesus heard this, he realized that the game had changed. No longer could he walk around assuming his own safety. No longer could he count of a steady stream of would-be supporters coming up out of the baptismal waters of the River Jordan. On this day, as Jesus dealt with the emotions surrounding the death of his cousin and as he came to grips with the reality that it would soon be his head that Herod would be after, Jesus tried to retreat for some time to reflect, pray, and regroup.
The crowd probably didn’t know what was going on in Jesus’ life at that moment so they were unable to have any compassion on him. Instead, they followed after him because they needed Jesus. They needed to hear his message of hope. They wanted to be healed of their various diseases, and so they followed Jesus out into the wilderness in the hope that he would help them.
On what had to be one of the worst days of his life, when all he wanted was to have some time alone with his Father, Jesus saw the crowd that followed him and had compassion on them. Not text message donation compassion, but compassion that started deep down in his belly and flowed forth to each and every member of the multitude. Compassion is a natural by-product of agape love; the self-sacrificial love that Jesus was able to have for complete strangers and that I sometimes struggle to maintain for even my closest loved ones. Compassion is a hallmark of the Kingdom of God, for as the Psalmist tells us, it is part of the very nature of God. “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works.”
Jesus, God the Son, even on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, was able to reach out in love and compassion. He felt the pain of those who had been ostracized because of their illnesses. He suffered with those who were afflicted in any number of ways, and he healed them. And then, as the day drew to a close and his disciples realized there were way too many mouths to feed on only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus had compassion on his friends and invited them to share in a miracle.
Jesus is the Son of God, and we are not. He was able to have compassion even in the worst of times, and the truth of the matter is that there are days that I wish I could just get in a boat and go off to a deserted place to stay by myself for a week or more. But as it happens, those days are the days that my phone rings the most, that the need is the greatest, and that I end up being blessed by being a conduit of God’s steadfast love and compassion.
I know it’s a part of my job to be compassionate, but I also know that my experience isn’t solely because I’m ordained. There are plenty of you out there who know exactly what I’m talking about: who know that feeling deep down in your gut; who reach out in love and care, sometimes even to total strangers. Compassion is an attribute of God and a hallmark of his Kingdom. The next time you have that feeling in your gut, even if it comes on a really bad day pay attention to it, allow yourself some time and space to suffer with someone else, and take your place in the long line of compassionate souls who have been fed by Jesus Christ. Amen.