2 Corinthians 1.3-7 (NIV)
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
If you are willing, take just a minute or two and write down the names of the first three people who come to mind when you think of someone who is compassionate.
Ok, so now we have our three compassionate people. When you look at those – how do those people demonstrate compassion?
What would you all say are some traits or characteristics of a compassionate person?
These past few weeks we have been thinking about what it means and looks like, as Jesus’ disciples, to have joy. I have been using the conversations between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dali Lama that are shared in the “Book of Joy” as a resource for these sermons. The Book of Joy talks about “Eight Pillars of Joy.” Today our Pillar of Joy is compassion. The Book of Joy has a helpful definition of compassion – “Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.”
A very simple definition of compassion could be “concern connected with helping action.”
Throughout the gospels we see Jesus connect concern with helping action a lot.
There are so many times we see Jesus notice someone who is hurting or in trouble and take action to help. In Matthew 9, we hear that Jesus is going through towns and villages, teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and healing diseases and sicknesses. Matthew tells us Jesus took a look at the crowds that had gathered around him and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Just after this, Jesus sends his disciples out to share the gospel and to care for these people.
The word Matthew uses to describe Jesus’ compassion is an awesome word – it has to do with having a gut-ache, like when you see something and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach … or having a broken heart. This is a powerful word. Jesus saw all of these people gathering around him … he saw that they were troubled and helpless, and his heart went out to them … and he did something, he sent his disciples out to help them and bring them hope … to share the gospel, the good news that in Jesus God’s presence was closer to them than they could imagine.
In Jesus we meet and know God, the one, who as the Apostle Paul says, is the “Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1.3-4). As we follow Jesus as disciples … as we seek to live his way of loving God and loving neighbors, as God’s Holy Spirit works in us, hopefully we are growing in compassion.
Sometimes I think we have the idea that compassion is something people are born with … and something that might not be available for all people. But, that isn’t an accurate way to think about compassion. Desmond Tutu teaches that “compassion is a skill that can be cultivated.” I would add that compassion seems like it would be the natural byproduct of living a life that is first of all concerned with keeping Jesus’ great commandment, loving God and loving the people around us.
If compassion is defined as concern connected to helping action, maybe the first step in growing in compassion is something as simple as noticing the people around us. I think that we might have a head-start on this.
One of my favorite things about walking or driving around here is that people notice each other. When we are driving there are those two fingered waves. When we are walking so many people say hello, or at least offer a simple head nod. That isn’t the case everywhere. Last summer when I was at a preaching conference in New Jersey, one afternoon when I was walking around the seminary and university campuses, I noticed that I was in the habit of saying, “hi” or at least doing something to acknowledge the people around me, maybe that simple head nod, but I kept getting these funny looks or people wouldn’t notice me.
The first step toward growing in compassion is, noticing people, it is seeing the people around us.
In Luke’s gospel, there is a story about Jesus really seeing … really noticing someone.
(If you would like to, you can follow along in Luke 7 starting at verse 36.)
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
Luke tells us about something that would have made everyone who was paying any attention to what was happening around them really, really, uncomfortable. This woman had been labeled a sinner by her community. Bible scholars assume all sorts of things about this woman, people speculate about her sin in all sorts of ways, but scripture doesn’t tell us what exactly her sin was. We just know she had a reputation in her community and whatever her sin was, it separated her from her community. She wasn’t supposed to be at this meal. Her presence and her actions would have shocked and surprised everyone who was there.
Well, most everyone. Jesus doesn’t seem to be all that shocked or surprised by her.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Simon doesn’t think Jesus has a clue what is happening.
In Simon’s mind there is no way Jesus could be a prophet if he can’t tell that this lady is bad news. As far as he was concerned she had no business interacting with Jesus and no business being at this party. And there is no way that her touchy, emotion drenched, spectacle was appropriate.
But Jesus is onto more than Simon knows. Jesus knows exactly what is happening. Jesus might be a prophet after all. Jesus seems to know just what Simon is thinking and speaks right to him.
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[c] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Simon thought he knew this woman. He thought he could see her – a sinner, a nuisance, a disruption, someone to avoid.
But Simon didn’t really see her.
Jesus sees her.
Jesus saw her as something more than a sinner or an interruption. When he looked at the woman, he saw God’s beloved, God’s forgiven, someone who was worthwhile, who couldn’t and shouldn’t be overlooked, underestimated, or avoided.
Chris Hall, an anglican priest and really insightful writer, says:
“Then Jesus points to the woman and asks a startling question: “Do you see this woman?” (v. 44). It’s worth pausing there before reading the rest of the narrative. “Do you see this woman?” The truth was, of course, that Simon had seen a great deal. He had seen the sinner at his door. He had seen, very clearly, the nature of her offense against propriety, whatever that had been. He had seen her intrusion into his circle, his world, his unsullied company; her disgraceful behavior; her unbridled grief; her extravagant offering of perfume. And he had passed a fearful and ferocious judgment on her in his own heart, based on all that he had seen. But the one thing he had failed to see was the woman herself—this wayward but beautiful [one] still bearing the image and likeness of her Creator. [Simon] had failed to see her pain, her sorrow, her fragile hope. He saw, so he thought, everything, but in the end proved blind to the only thing that mattered.
Jesus, on the other hand, saw the woman. He addressed her directly, tenderly, speaking to her pain and her hope. We see this happening repeatedly throughout the Gospels” (https://renovare.org/articles/becoming-like-jesus-compassionate-life).
As Jesus’ disciples, as people who want to trust in Jesus, live lives that honor him, and follow his way of love, we are called to be compassionate people.
We are called to be people who see the people around us and who respond to the needs we see in people’s lives.
Compassion equals concern, seeing the people around us, and responding with helping action.
Jesus offers us compassion and leads us toward compassion.