Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity

Probably the best point to begin with today's Gospel is in he words “he had compassion on her.” Jesus immediately grasped the plight of this poor woman, already a widow and now childless because her only son is dead. Under the circumstances of the place and time, she was left in desperate circumstances, dependent on the kindness of her neighbors.

The verb “had compassion” is a familiar one in the Gospels. Luke uses it three times: not only here, but to tell us of the father who had compassion on his prodigal son, and of the good Samaritan who had compassion on the man who fell among thieves. Matthew uses this verb to tell us, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). This verb “had compassion” was used by Matthew and Mark to tell us why Jesus fed the five thousand.

We must resist the temptation at this point to say, “Ah, how wonderful that Jesus was compassionate! This shows how truly human he was!” This thing which we call compassion, or mercy, or kindness (we will return to the point that it is a verb rather than a noun) in the Biblical vocabulary is no sign of humanity but of deity. In Psalm 145 we read,

The LORD is gracious and merciful; long-suffering, and of great goodness.
The LORD is loving unto every man; and his mercy is over all his works.,
So it is not the humanity of our dear Lord which is presented in this text, but rather His Deity. The general impression we receive from the Scriptures is that humankind rarely displays compassion. Only where the Gospel of Jesus has transformed lives and made some impact on society do we observe anything that can be called compassion.

Cain still lures Abel “out into the field” and smites him. We unite ourselves with Cain and ask, “Am I my brother's keeper?” as we complacently live with the abortion holocaust, There are many priests and levites who pass by the man left for dead in the ditch, but very few good Samaritans.

The crowd of observers at the city gate of Nain did not praise Jesus as a great humanitarian. Instead, they “glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.” What they had observed was not merely a feeling, nor an emotional display, nor a sentimental speech on the part of Jesus. They had seen with their eyes a mighty act, an act which only God could bring to pass. Yes, Biblical compassion is a verb, not a noun; an act, not a feeling; a whole pattern of behavior, not merely a sentiment. As God has had compassion on us, may we learn to show it ourselves.

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