- The Revd Camellia Flanagan
Compassion in the end
Pentecost 9 A Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 17::1-7,16 Matthew14:13-21
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is no doubt that whatever happens to us in life changes us in some way and we are never again the same person. It is as though a new day has dawned and we begin to live in a new way. Today in the bible readings we are reminded of the results of not giving up and the effect of compassion. In the Old Testament reading Jacob was persistent. He was not going to let his wrestling partner go until he was perhaps moved by compassion and gave him a blessing. He not only got the blessing, but the effect was a change in character and direction. Jacob the ambitious deceiver becomes “Israel” the one who struggled with God and overcomes and in spite of injury receives the blessing he wanted. As the new day is dawning, Jacob is aware of what happened and gradually becomes a different person.
In our own lives we find that strong characters develop as we wrestle with tough situations and sometimes people are given new names or nicknames which often indicate a change in character and life direction.
In the gospel reading we find that Jesus, though wrestling with his own grief of the tragedy of the death of his cousin John, known as John the Baptist, turned his concern to others. He had withdrawn to a deserted place to be alone, but the crowds found him. We are told he had compassion for them and cured their sick. Jesus put aside his personal grief, did not dwell on his grief but continued to help the people who had found him. He continued healing and teaching, the ministry he came to do.
To have compassion means both the emotion felt when a person is moved by the suffering of others, and feels a desire to help, and the act of entering into the suffering of another with the specific purpose of taking action to relieve the suffering. In essence, the desire is not much use without the action. Jesus has shown us how to react to the suffering of others. Compassion is demonstrated in the life of Jesus, and it is also part of the instruction he gave to those who inquired how they might follow him. All the Gospel narratives indicate that as Jesus travelled throughout the towns and villages, he had compassion for people harassed and helpless. In other parts of Scripture compassion is regarded as an essential virtue of the ethical life. As we fulfil the command to love one another (1 John 3:11-18) we express compassion. This is the case also as we carry each other’s burdens.
Jesus saw that the people were famished after a day of listening to his teaching and Jesus responded miraculously to their need. Before this, Jesus had performed some miracles recognised as signs of his identity. He used other miracles to teach important truths. Here we read that he healed people because he had compassion on them. Jesus, in his humanity and in his divinity was and is, a loving caring, and feeling person. When we suffer can we remember that Jesus suffers with us? He has compassion for us.
Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed over 5000 people. What he was originally given seemed insufficient, but in his hands, it became more than enough. We often feel that our contribution to Jesus is meagre, but he can use and multiply whatever we give him, whether it is talent, time, or treasure. It is when we give them that our resources are multiplied.
There are accounts of Jesus feeding a multitude of people in the writings attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is interesting to note that this miracle is different when compared to miracles recorded before. In the miracles of healing and casting out demons there is a commentary of the questions Jesus asked of the person healed, and comments on the discussions from the onlookers and even from the religious leaders of the day. These miracles pointed beyond extraordinary events of healing to show and tell who Jesus was – not just an ordinary person but divine. The feeding of the multitude with a small quantity of food, just a few loaves and some fish, a not insignificant miracle, did not evoke a comment from anyone in the crowd, and nothing from the disciples either.
Yes they were hungry, and they had more than enough to eat in that deserted place, but why did not anyone ask about where all the food could have come from to feed so many people, even to the point that the quantity of food left over was more than the original few loaves and fish? Could it be that eating is so much an ordinary and often taken for granted occurrence? There are many things in our daily lives that we do without giving them a second thought, but when we are faced with an injury, illness or when life gets tough, we start in our helplessness looking for answers. It is in these tough times that we may turn to God for answers and help.
Perhaps the people who had enjoyed the bountiful fish and bread were just consumers. Like many of us today we know where our next meal is coming from. And do not give it any more thought than the supermarket shopping list or where can we eat out tonight. Or not so easy with Covid-19 restrictions in place but you understand my meaning. As the distressing situations of the world pandemic are ever before us, and more and more people are without income and support, let us be compassionate in the true sense and do what we can to relieve suffering, even if it is only obeying the distancing, travel and hygiene rules.
Our compassion must not be limited to personal relationships but needs to be directed to social needs also. Where there is hunger, compassion requires the feeding of the hungry. Where there is poverty, compassion requires economic justice. Where there is oppression, compassion requires social and political reform. Because God suffers with those who suffer, it is in compassionate action that we encounter God. When we fulfil the command to show mercy and compassion to one another, we find God and better understand ourselves. And in biblical imagery, if we do not, we show hardness of heart.
When we feel the pain and distress of others and we take action to relieve the suffering in the words of the opening hymn this morning (TIS 653) God’s mighty Spirit, now as then can make for us a world of difference as faith and hope are born again. And as we embrace opportunities to relieve suffering. In faith we’ll gather round the table to taste and share what love can do. This is a day of new beginnings; our God is making all things new.