5th Sunday after Epiphany – February 5, 2017
Luke 7:1-17 and Psalm 119:105-107
One aspect of the ministry of Jesus was healing. When He met someone who was hurting and needed help, Jesus seemed to often ask, “How can I help?” He had a heart filled with compassion and a desire to not only relate to the pains and struggles of others but to also try to make their lives better when He could.
In today’s reading, Jesus has encountered a funeral procession. A young man, the only son of his widowed mother, has died. Jesus’ compassion is not for the dead young man. His heart goes out to the woman who has lost the last member of her family. She is alone and vulnerable. She is afraid of what the future holds. Jesus senses her pain and acts to bring her what she needs most. This is not just about her getting her son back. It is about her getting her life back, since as a first century woman, her ability to have property and the things she needed to provide for herself were limited.
Each of us is invited to continue the work of Jesus in our own way. Few of us have the ability to raise dead people and bring them back to life! But we are not to dismiss the calling to do what we can to bring life to people who are hurting and to bring help to people who are vulnerable.
The work of the church includes healing. When we meet people who are physically, emotionally or spiritually in need of healing, it is a chance to say, “How can I be a healing presence in this person’s life?” The answer to that may give us clues into how we are to continue the ministry of Jesus in our own time and in our own ways.
Catholic priest and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen describes Jesus’ life of compassion as the “path of downward mobility.” Jesus chooses pain, rejection, persecution, and death rather than the path of “upward mobility” toward power, authority, influence, and wealth. Jesus did not reach down and lift the poor up from above. He became poor, He suffered with, and according to Luke, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are precisely what enables redemption, indeed, relief from suffering, for all humanity.
Jesus’ “path of downward mobility” differs from the common notion today that compassion means helping “those less fortunate than we are.” It is a particularly privileged North American notion to think that if we volunteer in a soup kitchen or donate money to help victims of natural disasters, we have been compassionate.
To be clear, these actions are important and valuable ways of serving others. But when we are able to maintain our distance or stay in a place “above” those we serve, such acts easily become acts of pity, rather than compassion. This is the problem with the idea of serving “those less fortunate”: we are somehow “more” and they are somehow “less.” We still have the power.
Real compassion, as embodied by Jesus, runs counter to our culture’s constant call to succeed, to impress, to be effective. Real compassion is a call to suffer with the powerless. To quote Nouwen again:
“Compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation.”
Though the story of Jesus raising the widow’s son is a short account, Jesus, importantly, does not rush to action. Luke does not use Mark’s favourite word, “immediately.” Instead, Jesus first shares in the widow’s pain; this is the necessary prerequisite to compassionate action.
In Haiti, where 1.4 million already vulnerable people are put at risk by a hurricane that swept away homes and livelihoods.
Others, whose hope of abundant life is already precarious, are suffering because of drought.
Moms in Malawi and Afghanistan for whom pregnancy might be the most natural act in the world but is still the most dangerous.
The kingdom of God is not only a relevant concept for our time, it is an urgent vision.
It is a compelling vision of a future that does not resemble anything of the present reality of suffering.
A future that is utterly different, utterly joyful.
It is our conviction as followers of Jesus that the kingdom is among us right now, but not fully realised, and not always visible unless we look carefully for signs.
Even what is accomplished through Presbyterian World Service & Development, which supports such faithful, remarkable work – sometimes feels almost like a drop in the bucket when compared with the magnitude of needs.
Let us continue the work of Jesus’ compassion in the various ways possible, locally in our neighbourhood as well as wider through the arms that our denomination has set in place. God bless us all, also here at Dayspring.
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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