A New Compassion
I have a new compassion for people who have a hard time losing weight. For 63 years it seemed like I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, and I never could tell any difference. One of our former associates had a dramatic spike in his cholesterol after being here a year. His doctor, who is also my doctor, wrote on his physical exam report, “NO MORE LUNCHES WITH ROBERT.” About a year and a half ago, though, my lickety-split metabolism apparently slowed down a little bit and, all of a sudden, my pants felt tight. I did what most of us do in that situation: I bought larger pants. But a few months ago, I decided to begin to moderate my intake of food and drink (sugar mainly) and increase my workouts. I now know what it feels like to admit to someone that I need to lose a few pounds and then have to tell them how I am doing. I also now know some of the discouragement of hoping for results but not always seeing them on the scale. At some level, I think I’ve always believed that overweight people just aren’t trying hard enough but now I know it’s a whole lot more complicated than that.
This past Sunday, I sat quietly to read the lessons assigned for worship. I usually do that much earlier in the week but I wasn’t preaching so I had not considered what the lessons were going to be. Early in the Gospel lesson, I came across this line (Matthew 9:36), “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” I recognized this as the same way in which the gospel writers set up the feeding of the five thousand, by speaking of Jesus’ compassion, but actually this story resulted in the sending out of the Twelve Apostles. When the people are physically hungry, Jesus has compassion on them and feeds them bread and fish. But here, when the people are hungry for guidance and hope, Jesus feeds them with the encouraging presence of the apostles.
It got me to thinking that God is mighty good at knowing what we need and sending that to us. We’re not always so good about receiving those gifts or even recognizing them but God is a master at sensing our needs and bringing about what is most fulfilling. He feeds us our daily bread even when we don’t ask for it and many of our spiritual awakenings revolve around our insights into God’s compassion and generosity.
The comparison between the stories of the feeding of the five thousand and the sending out of the apostles also invites us to see that God has some expectations about our developing an increased compassion for others. With the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” With the sending out of the apostles, Jesus says they are to be sensitive to the actual needs of the people they come across rather than assuming that one approach fits all.
I am encouraged to know that, in our very difficult current times, we can all trust God’s compassion. God knows what we need even before we ask it. God works to give us what we truly need rather than just what we impatiently want. Living in times where we are not in control brings us to a greater appreciation of God’s generous compassion and true wisdom. Troubled times cannot keep God from accomplishing the work of grace, salvation, justice, and mercy. God is extra attentive in troubled times.
I am also encouraged to know that our compassion for each other, in our very difficult current times, seems to be increasing. It seems that privileged people have a new appreciation of what oppressed people have to deal with. It seems that whites have a new appreciation for the dangers that black and brown people face. Surely we are all called to a greater compassion for those in our society whose lives are more difficult than ours, for protestors who are angry and scared, for our police officers who have such dangerous jobs and the great majority of which do such incredible jobs, for our public officials who we often blame for all that is wrong but who have impossible jobs, for those who are affected by COVID and/or the great cost of being isolated from each other, for relationships which are struggling with increased pressures in these times, for those who have lost their jobs and businesses. Surely we are called to a greater compassion for all the children of God, our brothers and sisters.
There is a great deal of pain all around us. Many are hurting in ways we really have not previously imagined. One of the wonderful ways we are wired is that our pain usually brings us to have more compassion for others rather than less. Hopefully, in whatever struggle you are going through, you are being inspired to a new compassion for others in the world.
God does not save us from sin and struggle just so that we can escape this world and go be in paradise where all things are perfect. God saves us so that we might be instruments of healing and wholeness. Make a list of those you know who are hurting. Make another list of those unknown to you that you imagine may be hurting. Push yourself a little. We are the hands of Christ in the world. And we are called to be connected to all God’s children.
It’s time for a new compassion.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.