Compassion for a Widow

Luke 7:11-17 (7:13) – July 30, 2017

Luke 7-10 widow's son Ottheinrich_Folio081v_Lc7B

“Compassion for a Widow”

I do not often make generalizations, but I suspect everyone will agree with this one. Pretty much everyone knows the grief, pain and anguish of having a close relative or loved one die. I’ve dealt with anxiety and fear, grief, anger and mourning plenty in the hospital when I worked as a chaplain, and afterwards, as pastor of this church.

This Gospel reading features a funeral procession, mourning and grieving, on the way to bury a dead loved one. This Gospel reading also features the widow of Nain (the town). One of the Gospel of Luke’s guest stars in a cameo appearance, the widow is in deep grief.

Naturally in dismay and trauma, I suspect all the widow wants is to be able to see her son again, alive.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s concentrate on Jesus.

Hear, again, today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, plus some commentary. “Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd came with Him.”  The Rabbi Jesus and close friends are traveling around Israel. (Remember, Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi, like a circuit-riding teacher and preacher.) The Rabbi Jesus did not live in one, stationary place, and His followers took on the same, nomadic lifestyle.

“As Jesus came to the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out.”  

I would like everyone to put your imagining cap on. You might be familiar with what I mentioned several weeks ago, introduced by St. Ignatius. Among other matters, Ignatius was a spiritual director. He wanted all people to get closer to God. What is more, there are things we can see, touch and feel about this reading—in our minds. This vivid use of imagination is one amazing way for that experience to happen.

So, Jesus was on the way, traveling all up and down the country. Right in the middle of things, as usual. What should Jesus and His friends run into but a funeral procession?

Imagine the traffic jam, right at the gates of the city of Nain. All the hustle and bustle of people coming and going. Animals, wagons and carts, shopkeepers, drivers making deliveries, people in close quarters, shuffling, passing through the city gates. Perhaps it’s a dry, dusty day. Add the dust, dirt and grit to the scene.

Can you see the people gawking at the funeral procession? One thing about this funeral procession: it’s for a younger person. We don’t know how much younger he was, but I know today that when a young person dies, they have lots of people at the funeral service. Can you hear the crying and wailing of the people who are mourning. Perhaps they are also squeezing through the busy city gate with everyone else. Luke says, “A large crowd came alongside his mother; she was a widow, and he was her only son.”

Her only son. Can you hear the sorrow and anguish packed into that small statement? Can you see the shock at the death of a young person, the loss of years not lived, of length of life not experienced?

When, suddenly, the Rabbi Jesus approaches the procession. He not only views that procession from among the many people grieving that day, but Jesus also goes beyond. He enters into the procession itself. Jesus interrupts, in a very large way. Listen to Luke’s words: “When Jesus saw her, he had compassion for her. He told her, “Do not weep.”

I would like to remind people about a quick word study I did a few weeks ago. I wanted to see what a proper, in-depth study on the word “compassion” had to say. According to one word study, “Com-passio literally means to “suffer with.”  In Latin, com means “with” and passio means “to suffer.” [1]

            As we consider what St. Ignatius wants us to do with our imagination as we think more deeply about this Scripture passage, we can add to it the intense emotions of grief, sorrow, longing, worry, anger, and suffering. On top of all of these deep, intense emotions, we can now add compassion. That’s not only compassion on a human level, but Jesus’s compassion. Godly compassion and caring. Wow! Can you say, “Wow!” with me?

In our children’s message today, I spoke about our scripture reading. I said Jesus recognized that a woman he met was extremely sad. This widow was left all alone, with no relatives at all! And, Jesus had empathy for her. the word “empathy” means to recognize another person’s emotion and then feel what that person feels; if someone feels sad, we recognize she feels sad and we feel sad with her, for example.

What the Gospel writer Luke does not say (because everyone in his time would understand it very well), is “Luke’s inclusion of the detail that this was her only son highlights her difficult situation. Without a husband and now without any son to support her, it is very likely that the widow is now or will soon be financially destitute.[2]

Do you see now why it is such a big deal that Jesus felt for this widow? He showed empathy for her and her extreme distress. Emotional, psychological and financial distress, as well as the spiritual upset, grief and trauma.

Jesus not only feels empathy and compassion for this widow, He goes that important step further. Continuing with Luke chapter 7: “Jesus told her, “Do not weep.” Then He came forward and touched the coffin. The people carrying it stopped moving. And Jesus said, “Young man, listen: get up!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him  to his mother.

            Our Lord Jesus does a miracle! Not only a healing, but raising the dead.

Jesus not only felt empathy, He did a miracle. He gave this woman back her much beloved son, and He stabilized her financial position, too. Jesus did a significant healing on several different levels.

That miracle is wonderful. In bible times, that is. I can just hear people stating that we couldn’t do anything even remotely resembling that marvelous miracle. Not today. Not us little, insignificant folks. That’s for big, important people, like Jesus, or the Apostles.

Our Lord Jesus is so awesome, and a wonder-worker, too. He showed empathy, yes, and also the incredibly personal touch: he cared deeply for that widow. It is so important to know Jesus first felt compassion and empathy for the widow before He healed her son.

Empathy is an important way for us to begin caring for others, which we learn through Jesus in this week’s example of compassion. It’s easiest for us to show empathy and compassion to people who are a lot like us, and harder to show this toward people who are very different from us. Who is different from you, and how can you be loving and caring to them?

This presents an opportunity to all of us. Find someone who is different from you and reach out to them, today. Be kind and compassionate.

How can you—we—practice empathy and caring, today? We can become more aware of how we can be loving, kind and helpful to those around us, like Jesus was with the mother in our Scripture passage today. A loving challenge from our Lord Jesus, today. Go, and do likewise.

Amen.

[1] Compassion in the New Testament (Part 1) http://www.jmarklawson.com/traveling-in-place/2012/03/compassion-in-the-new-testament-part-1.html

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1679 Commentary, Luke 7:11-17, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013

 

Compassion for People in Need

Matthew 9:35-38 (9:36) – July 9, 2017

Matt 9-36 compassion, words

“Compassion for People in Need”

Who do we know today who comes to help people in need? Our Lord Jesus talked about sheep and shepherds in our Gospel message today. If you were to think of a modern example of a shepherd—someone who guides, protects, and cares—what or who comes to mind, especially in our neighborhood?

Let’s hold that thought in our minds and hear what Jesus said again. Jesus traveled all around the wider area, teaching in all of the local places of worship, the synagogues. As He went from place to place proclaiming the Good News, Jesus had compassion for the crowds, who were milling around aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd.

Taking a closer look at these bible verses, I think I know what “compassion” is, but I wanted to see what a proper, in-depth word study on the word “compassion” had to say. According to one word study, “Com-passio literally means to “suffer with.”  In Latin, com means “with” and passio means “to suffer.”  “Passion” is suffering, which is why we talk about “the Passion of Christ” during Holy Week.” [1]

In other words, Jesus was suffering with His fellow Israelites while He was traveling around the country. Jesus saw them hurting, and His heart went out to them. “True love … involves suffering.  Suffering is an inevitable consequence of the deep joy that comes with binding oneself to the heart and soul of another.” [2]

Our Gospel lesson from Matthew said Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” We are going to take a tour through the Bible, tracing these words and these terms. This description using the word “compassion” and the term “sheep without a shepherd” is awfully similar to a description from the Hebrew Scriptures in Ezekiel 34. Picture this: the prophet said the nation of Israel is seen as sheep scattered over the mountains without a shepherd, lost, in danger. Sound familiar?

I understand that sheep are dumb animals. This word image is used over and over in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Herding and keeping the sheep together is a big concern with sheep. Without someone to guide them, they move about aimlessly. They get lost. They wander off and often pay little attention to what is going on around them, especially dangers and difficulty. “This is the spiritual state of the people in today’s passage, and we see that in Jesus’s actions to teach the people. “ [3]

I would like to return to the word “compassion.” We looked at the Latin roots of that word, but the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek. If we take a closer look at what the Greek word “compassion” means, we see the word splagchna, which appears in the letter to the Philippians. The Apostle Paul’s words in the King James Version say: “I long after you all with the bowels of Jesus Christ.”  The word splagchna means “bowels” – literally, the innards in your belly.  It’s an earthy image that might offend some.

“The people of the ancient world believed that all of the most intense feelings originated in the belly.  For them, “guts” did not mean “courage,” but depth of feeling.  It’s easy for us to understand why they would believe that, because when we feel anxious or afraid, our stomachs churn.  Our lower innards give away how much we are affected by our circumstances.  Splagchna oiktirmou means something like “’the bowels of deep feeling.’” [4]

We are talking about Jesus feeling deep feelings right down to His guts. Literally.

We have some vivid images here. Lost, defenseless sheep. Jesus feeling deep feelings for those sheep, right down to the bowels of deep feeling. Right down to His guts.

But, Jesus does not leave those lost sheep defenseless, afraid and isolated. No! He has recruited helpers. Shepherds sometimes have assistants or guard dogs that help them with their job. If you were to think of a modern example of a shepherd—someone who guides, protects, and cares—what or who comes to mind, especially in our neighborhood?

Think of an accident or a fire. Or, someone getting lost, especially a child. Who shows up? Who are the first people on the spot in an emergency situation? I was thinking of police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders. What about people like social workers, trauma workers, and the medical team from a hospital’s emergency department or intensive care unit? They protect, guide and care for people in trouble, today.

That is the depth, the enormity of what our Lord Jesus was thinking of, in this reading today. In observing his fellow people of Israel, He was moved with compassion down to His guts, His “innards.”

And, what was Jesus’s compassionate response? Jesus did what He could to meet their spiritual needs—with salvation!

If we were to see a child running ahead of their parents or caregiver down the sidewalk, and that child went toward a busy street, what would any sensible person do? They would run to save the child, and stop him or her from running out in traffic. That’s what Jesus wants to do here, in our Scripture passage.

Let’s think about us, today. We are described as sheep. I own that. I realize that I am sometimes stubborn as a sheep. I sometimes wander off, blithely going in my own direction, away from the way that I know God wants me to go. And, sometimes I get lonely and lost. I get turned around and don’t know the way back to my home, to that safe place where people love me, care for me, and are concerned for my welfare. Does anyone else relate to these deep, anxious, lonely feelings? Are there some other sheep out there, in this congregation?

Jesus offers us salvation. He offers us the opportunity to become a sheep in His flock, a lamb in His tender care. Jesus is doing this out of the compassion of His heart, just as He did for His fellow countrymen, the fellow Jews in the country of Israel. Remember, Jesus saw the people as lost, alone, without direction.

How has Jesus been a shepherd for you, in your life? Either today, recently, or at a time when you really needed it? Has Jesus cared for someone close to you, for a loved one or a dear friend? Jesus is doing this out of the compassion, the deep feeling of His “innards.”

What is more, Jesus offers us the opportunity to show compassion to each other. We can show our friends, our loved ones, even absolute strangers the same compassion. We all know that feeling when we feel anxious or afraid, when our stomachs churn.  Our lower innards give away how much we are affected by our circumstances.  That is how deeply we are to feel with compassion! We are urged to go out of our way and care for others.

Can you think of ways in which you can show compassion this week? Nothing would make our God happier than to have us walk in our Lord Jesus’s steps and show compassion to others, today, and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] Compassion in the New Testament (Part 1) http://www.jmarklawson.com/traveling-in-place/2012/03/compassion-in-the-new-testament-part-1.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/sheep-without-shepherd/  Ligonier Ministries – The Teaching Fellowship of R.C. Sproul

[4] Compassion in the New Testament (Part 1) http://www.jmarklawson.com/traveling-in-place/2012/03/compassion-in-the-new-testament-part-1.html 

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)