Pentecost 8 B 2021 Compassion Sermon
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savor Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I read the Gospel text for today, I immediately understood what happened to Jesus and the disciples that day. Think about it. How many times have you planned out your day, only to have something out of your control override all that you had carefully planned?
Maybe someone called you and you needed to drop everything that you were doing to go and help that person. Maybe company suddenly stopped by and demanded your attention. Or maybe it was simply that the telephone rang and interrupted your thoughts and the brilliant sentence that you were about to write disappeared from the tip of your tongue and was lost forever.
The list of events could go on and on. But the point is that we have all had those days when even our best laid plans suddenly went flying out the window and our day was changed forever.
That is what happened to Jesus and the disciples in our Gospel text today. The disciples had just returned from teaching, and casting out demons, and anointing and curing the sick and the disciples wanted to report back to Jesus all that had happened.
Sensing that the disciples needed His full attention, Jesus suggested that they go away to a deserted place for a while so they could talk and rest and sort out what had just occurred while they were out in the mission field.
But that was not going to happen. We are told that many people saw them leave and somehow figured out where they were going. So many people, in fact, that a large crowd had arrived at the deserted place ahead of them. So when Jesus and His disciples arrived at the deserted location, it quickly became apparent that the peaceful quiet time that they were looking forward too was not going to happen.
The text states “As He went ashore, He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.” Verse 34
Now, before I go any further, I think it is appropriate to point out that taking time to rest and enjoy a time of Sabbath is a good thing. In a world flowing with constant information and interruptions caused by modern technology, it is now more important than ever to take time to walk and talk with God and remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy.
I must admit that I am looking forward to my upcoming vacation in September so I can spend some quality time resting and renewing my spirit as I venture out into God’s beautiful creation.
Even so, I am aware that God may have other plans. And plans can and do change. As Jesus went ashore with His disciples and saw the crowd, He immediately had compassion for them.
The same type of compassion (by the way) that He wants us to have when we come across folks who desperately need God’s Redeeming Activity in their lives.
And so, the question that needs to be asked is “How do we define the type of “Compassion” that trumps our need for rest and recuperation?” And how do we define what compassion means?
Many people think that compassion is a synonym for pity, and people like this substitute word because pity is something that one can feel for others without having to get personally involved. In a sense, pity is sort of a one up, because we often see ourselves as better than those we see needing pity.
But I do not think that is how Jesus understood compassion. I think Jesus defined compassion as having empathy for another person. The dictionary defines empathy this way: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
However, and this is where it gets complicated, when one looks at the synonyms for empathy, pity is one of the first ones listed. So, rather than defining compassion the way the world might define compassion, let us look at this theologically.
The Greek verb for having compassion includes the root word for intestines.
Yes, you heard that right. I said intestines, like those that are in our guts. And this indicates that compassion is something that we feel way down deep in our gut. Compassion is what bubbles up in us when we see someone experiencing a pain that we have experienced ourselves and know all too well.
Let me give you a few examples. Compassion is what we feel when a child falls off a bike and skins a knee. Compassion is what we feel for a good friend when one of their parents passes away. Compassion is what someone who has been bullied feels when they see someone else being bullied.
So, when the text states that Jesus had compassion for the large crowd that had beat Him to the secluded beach, it means that Jesus felt their pain and reached out to them as their shepherd. And what exactly does this mean?
In the Old Testament God was called a shepherd, and God’s people were called the flock. For instance, in Psalm 23 the psalmist sings that the shepherd leads him/her to green pastures near refreshing waters. The shepherd guards him/her in right paths and protects him/her from evil.
God Himself said: “I will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal.” Ezekiel 34:15-16
When Jesus came ashore, as the Good Shepherd He reached out to the people, and touched them, and healed them, and loved them, and taught them the Good News. Jesus welcomed them and Jesus did not see them as an interruption.
Therefore, as we leave this sanctuary this morning, let us remind ourselves that faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ is about being intentional and caring towards the interruptions to our plans; remembering that is what Jesus did and that is what Jesus asks from us as well.
May we allow ourselves the freedom to feel and experience the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus felt when He looked out at the people and saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd.
And may we respond as Jesus did - providing comfort, hope and the proclamation of the Good News as we fulfill the ministry Christ has given to us. Amen.
Let us pray: O lord, pour out upon us the spirit to think and do what is right, that we, who cannot even exist without you, may have the strength to live according to your will; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.