When Jesus saw people in a helpless state, we read that he had “compassion” for them (Matthew 9:36). We sense here, a wholly inclusive concern for the well-being of all the community, especially those completely lost in life. We are very well aware of the immense need within our local community, across our state and nation, and around the whole world. We could only imagine that Jesus would be looking upon this world (that God loves) with this same “compassion”.
This Greek word here translated “compassion” has such a depth to it, it is difficult to adequately translate in English. This is a “pity” and an “empathy” that comes from deep within Jesus – what he sees turns his stomach – Jesus is “gutted”… and he is “stirred” into action. We can see that this is much more than sympathy, for there is a close engagement with the issues here. If this is the way God feels when He sees various levels and types of need, then this is how we should also feel. This attitude is what led the ‘good Samaritan’ to cross the road and care for the injured traveller (Luke 10:33).
We can never approach our task of mission through an elevated pride and superiority, but rather through an engaging humility and compassion. There are those people who are living under neglect, oppression and violence all around the world, and then there are many who are just emotionally exhausted, bewildered and worn out – “harassed and helpless” – tormented and depressed … just under the daily pressure of doing life (dealing with relationships and raising children) – and often it seems … resorting to drugs to quell the pain.
Followers of Jesus CANNOT turn a blind eye to need! This would be contrary to our faith. To have this God-like compassion leads to attitudes of fairness and justice, and therefore, also, to responses and actions against injustice. Adam Gustine has written a book, that talks about how we can’t just turn our responses to need … on-and-off … as a matter of choice. Each follower of Jesus, and the church collectively, needs to simply and naturally be ‘just’ … as part of who we are in our relationship with Christ Jesus – both in our relationship with each other, and in our relationship with the world.
Adam Gustine writes: “Sadly, many churches struggle to integrate justice and the pursuit of God’s shalom [the Hebrew notion of complete human integrated peace and well-being] meaningfully into their vision for what it means to be the church. The work of being the church has to include the pursuit of ‘shalom’ – both in terms of how we live together as a ‘body’, and also the way that our ‘body’ participates in the world”.
You might remember that when the people of Israel were exiled in Babylon (separated from their real home), that nonetheless, the prophet Jeremiah, on behalf of God, said that they should seek the welfare of where they now lived. God’s call to justice never has an ‘us-and-them’ component, but only a ‘we’ … in thorough human solidarity. There are NO limits to who our neighbour is – when a person, or a particular community, is in need, or where injustice is present. Transformed attitudes like this, truly ‘being just’, living with integrity, is actually how we will be able to form God-glorifying and authentic relationships with our neighbours.
1 Peter 3:8 reads: “… all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind”. Now that is how we, together, can reflect the image of God to the world! So, we see something that is NOT right, and we find a way, rather than being passive or dismissive, or apathetic, or believing that it’s someone else’s problem, to take some action. As believers in the notion that this, despite it’s folly, is still God’s world, a world that God loves – we begin with prayer, and with reading the Bible for guidance, and asking God’s Spirit for wisdom, while we also have a eye for what we can do.
This may mean we write a letter or email to a decision-maker (a person with the power to bring change), or make a phone-call to their office. Or we might be part of some form of protest, or in other cases … fund-raising. Or we might have opportunity to become more hands on.
Being able to grow in our compassion, being a ‘just’ community of active faith, doesn’t just happen because we want it to. Life is too complex, and humanity is too frail. We can’t achieve good things for long, just in our own strength! This is a work of God’s Spirit within us – individually and collectively. And so we need to KNOW Jesus more.
We need to dwell on Scriptures (like we have looked at today), and apply them to our life situations. We need to humbly seek Jesus in our lives. We need to continually know his grace and forgiveness. We need to let him change us into His image. And in this process, we can be a “labourer” in the “harvest” of mercy, that God wants to bring.
Loving God, May Your Kingdom come - may it come in me, may it come in us! Amen.