Last week in our Scripture reading, we had the story of two different Sabbath days with Jesus pushing the boundaries of what it meant to observeSabbath in light of changing circumstances. Today, we have two towns, two healings, two very different circumstances. In the first healing, the healing comes to one outside of the people of God, to a slave of a Roman centurion. The Jewish elders sent toJesus appeal to him and declare the centurion worthy for he has helped the Jewish people, even built their synagogue. This was a man of means and it seems a man of faith, for while others call him worthy, he knows his own unworthiness and asks Jesus not to even come to his house but just to say the word and he knows his beloved servant will be healed. A man of deep faith who was not a Jew. And Jesus heals the servant, expanding the boundaries yet again of who belongs in the Kingdom of God.
The second story is much different. No one calls the man who has died or his widowed mother worthy. There is no indication that they are a family of means. The man is not sick but already dead. But when Jesus comes across the dead man’s mother, it says he sees her and has compassion on her. As a widow with her only son now dead, she is a woman without hope. Women at that time were dependent on the men in their lives for survival and she is now a woman without husband or son. She is doubly vulnerable. Jesus sees her and has compassion on her and so raises her son from the dead and in that act she has now been restored to community and survival.
This word compassion is important in Luke. Compassion is not to intellectually understand that someone is suffering, it is to feel for that person on a visceral level. The word in Greekcomes from the word intestines. Jesus feels for this woman on a deep, gut-wrenching level. Two other times we hear this word compassion in Luke. Once when the good Samaritan has compassion on the stranger in the ditch and cares for him and again when the father sees his prodigal younger son returning and has compassion for him.
The compassion that Jesus felt, that prompted him to resurrect this widow’s only son, is the call to suffer with the powerless. Henri Nouwencalls Jesus life of compassion a life of “downward mobility”. He says “Compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation.” “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
To see those who are suffering and to feel compassion towards them is not always easy. But it is what the example of Jesus calls us to. In our own time, we might asked to view someone on the other side of a political argument with compassion. It might be a woman who has gone back to her abusive husband again and again. It might be a teenager who is giving you nothing but trouble.
Jesus sees the grieving widow and has compassion on her. Who do we need to see that we might overlook? Where is there suffering? How can we build a home there?
Dropping Sophia off at school on Friday, I noticed the flag was at half staff. I didn’t know what significant person had died recently so I looked it up which is how I came to hear about the incredible story of the four chaplains. George Fox, Alexander Goode, Clark Poling, and John Washington died on this date in 1943 when their troop ship, TheDorchester, was torpedoed. There weren’t enough life jackets, so the four men helped soldiers to the lifeboats, then gave up their life jackets, linked arms, sang hymns, and went down with their ship. These four men showed the ultimate compassion, the ultimate downward mobility for their soldiers.
To have compassion on another child of God. To feel a deep, gut-wrenching sympathy and desire to alleviate their suffering. This is the way of Jesus.
After Jesus had given the dead man back to his mother, it says that the crowd was seized by fear and that they glorified God. Jesus welcomed the worthy and the unworthy,the rich and the poor, he had compassion on those often overlooked and he offered healing to the suffering. And he asks us to do the same. Fear and glorifying God seems an appropriate response.
Jesus became poor and suffered with us, to the point of death so that we might be restored to community with God and one another. In the communion meal we will soon share,Jesus offers his very self to us and asks us to remember him. May we do so, we receiving Christ’s compassion and extending that same compassion all. May it be so. Amen.