Pastor Mark’s Devotion 102 -Sept. 22

“Compassion”

“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately, they received their sight and followed him.” Matthew 20:34

As Jesus made his way from Jericho to Jerusalem and was about to make his triumphal entry amidst cheering crowds and waving palm branches, he was met by two blind men. They shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.” The crowd rebuked them but Jesus called them to him. He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord”, they answered, “We want to receive our sight.” The Bible says that Jesus had “compassion” on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Jesus showed compassion on all kinds of people. Considering all that is going on in our world, compassion might be a subject worth considering today. Would others consider us to be compassionate? Would our Stanwood community consider our congregation a compassionate church? What does it even truly mean to be “compassionate”?

The Biblical authors certainly saw Jesus as one who was compassionate. Four times in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is specifically referenced having shown compassion. Matthew states that as Jesus moved through all the towns and villages, he taught, preached and healed the sick. In summary, Matthew 9:36 says, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” In Matthew 14:14, prior to Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, it is recorded, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Again, in Matthew 15:32, prior to his feeding another crowd of 4,000, Jesus said, “I have compassion for these people, they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Finally, in Matthew 20:34, when Jesus is confronted by the two blind men on the road outside of Jericho, Jesus had compassion on them, and gave them back their eyesight.

The Apostle Paul used the term, “compassion” in describing the character of God in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians. Paul states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

In Romans chapter 9, St. Paul reminds his readers of God’s nature, that He first spoke to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)

Then in the book of Colossians, Paul encourages believers, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion – as well as kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Last week, I read a secular article regarding “Emotional Intelligence”. In the article, it stated one way of determining the strength of one’s emotional intelligence was the ability to differentiate between the terms; empathy, sympathy, and pity. The article stated that these terms are thrown around so liberally, that it might seem like an exercise in semantics. But understanding their different nuances can make a world of difference when dealing with the people around us.

 

I thought it might be interesting to consider this idea from a biblical perspective.

When the Bible states that Jesus had “compassion” with those around him, another word that could be used would be “empathy”. Empathy, by definition, is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” The key to empathy is that it requires an “active engagement” with another person. It involves an action that places attention and focus upon another individual. Empathy seeks to “walk in the shoes of another”, but doesn’t assume that it already does so. Empathy includes opening one’s ears and heart, and truly listening to the conditions of another. Jesus actively engaged, listened, and put on the shoes of those he came in contact with. This is why he connected so deeply with so many.

Sympathy is defined more as an automatic or involuntary response. The focus is not so much upon the other individual but the association one has with the other’s conditions. You may sympathize with those who lost homes in the Creek Fire because you yourself have suffered a similar fate. But your sympathy is generated more from your own experience and less from an active engagement with those who have suffered the loss.

Pity is defined as the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. Pity tends to look at another person as a victim. Pity is not an emotion that has one walking alongside another or wearing another’s shoes. Pity places a person above the other and does not connect persons through a shared experience.

As it is helpful to differentiate between the terms, empathy, sympathy and pity, it is also helpful to understand the similarity between the biblical terms, mercy and compassion.

God declares himself to be both merciful and compassionate. He will have mercy upon whom he has mercy, and compassion upon whom he has compassion. The common link between these two terms is “active engagement”. The word, Mercy, “hesed” in the Old Testament and “eleos” in the New Testament means literally, “To Relieve” or “To Bring Relief”. Mercy is to bring tangible, physical relief from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain or suffering. So, in Jesus’ parable of the “Unmerciful Servant” – when the King calls out the hard heartedness of his servant and states, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) He is referring to the fact that he could have “relieved” his fellow servant of a physical, monetary debt.

Therefore, Mercy involves an “active engagement” in relieving the suffering of another person through a type of “act of kindness”. So also, compassion involves an “active engagement” in identifying and experiencing the suffering of another person in a tangible, emotional way.

The Greek root word for “compassion” points to a person’s bowels or intestines. One’s stomach gets twisted in knots because they identify with another’s pain. We can see this in Jesus when he arrives in Bethany after Lazarus, his dear friend has died. He meets Mary and feels her loss. John 11:33 records this moment. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was ‘deeply moved’ in spirit and ‘troubled.’ In the vernacular, we might say, “His guts were twisted inside out”. So much so, that Jesus wept and shed tears with them.

Consider today that we have a God who declares himself to be merciful and compassionate. In these trying times, we have a God who is “actively engaged” in our lives. His desire is to “bring relief” from all that troubles us. He walks alongside us. He not only knows our shoe size, he is on his knees, lacing them up for us, looking into our eyes, with a broad smile on his face. He is ready to listen with an open heart, and wants to connect in a tangible way.

Today, may this Father of compassion comfort you. And when the opportunity arises, may we comfort those with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 2

“The Point of Pain”

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 1 Cor. 1:9

In previous devotions, I touched on “The Power of Praise” and “The Purpose of Pause”. Today, I’d like to try to tackle, “The Point of Pain”.

People are experiencing an enormous amount of pain these days. They are feeling the physical pain of fevers, cough and in too many cases, the helplessness of respiratory failure. People are also feeling the emotional pain of isolation and separation, not to mention losing loved ones due to this virus. Doctors and health professionals are feeling the pain of patients passing away and the frustration of inadequate equipment. They are also feeling the painful fear of not being able to protect themselves. Non-essential workers are feeling the pain of unemployment. Parents are feeling the pain of trying to teach their children at home. The country is feeling the general pain of this new normal. And we have no idea how many people are feeling the spiritual pain of feeling forsaken by God. Extracting fact from feeling – while people might feel forsake of God – none of us are truly forsaken – Jesus solved that issue on the cross at Calvary. But in truth; pain remains.

This morning I watched Dr. Fauci respond to another litany of questions during another never-ending interview about this coronavirus. It was painful to watch! It is becoming more obvious the pain this pandemic is playing on him. Now there are even reports regarding threats to his personal welfare. More pain!

St. Paul experienced his own share of painful moments. He opens his second letter to the Corinthian church with these words, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers (and sisters), about the painful hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (1:8)

Guaranteed, there are hundreds of thousands of people all across our country who can relate to the pain Paul describes. We hear every night how health workers are beside themselves, not knowing how long they will be able to keep going or if help will come.

In chapter 11, Paul details many of his painful trials:

               “Five times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored today and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst; I have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?”

It feels as if Paul has felt the pain of all our essential workers wrapped up into one person. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, no sleep, DAILY PRESSURE, constantly on the move, danger coming from every direction, and in general – beaten down. Summarized Into one word, OVERWHELMING!!  

Yet Paul, in the midst of all his suffering, he interprets the point of pain. He writes, “But this (all) happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” His words might sound trite to many today. What can these words mean to people who are flailing about, trying to tread water and simply keep their heads above the waves? But Paul’s declaration must mean more than simple cliché.  Paul, himself, suffered storms that broke him (he despaired of his very life!), yet he remained afloat.

Paul’s mantra remained the same through all the continued mayhem in his life. He captures his conclusions to pain in Philippians 4:19. He confesses, “And MY GOD will meet ALL YOUR NEEDS according to HIS GLORIOUS RICHES in CHRIST JESUS.” Paul found God to be faithful throughout all his painful crisis. In fact, in his book to the Roman Christians, Paul also points out the potential that pain can allow for perseverance, character building, and even in some paradoxical way, joy can be found.

Paul wants his people to understand that pain is not the end of the story. Rather, pain can open another chapter, pointing people to recognize and rely upon the power of God. In his own life, Paul concludes, God is faithful and He will do it!

We must also realize, that Paul was not alone. There are countless others in Scripture who experience pain and point us to the faithfulness of God!

King David, feeling deep emotional pain asks himself rhetorically, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” This man, who loves God with all of his heart, is struggling with the pain of depression. But in this moment, he answers his own question; “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (And let’s be clear: God has provided medication to help treat the nine known types of depression today. Praise God!) 

Another case in point, Hannah, the woman chosen to give birth to the prophet Samuel. She too felt deep emotional pain. Unable to conceive, the Scripture reports, “And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.”        (1 Samuel 1:6-7)

Hannah felt the personal, emotional pain of feeling inadequate and belittled. Yet when God finally blessed her with a child, Hannah lifts a powerful prayer that points us in the same direction as the others. She prays, “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. It is not by human strength that one prevails; There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”                               (1 Samuel 2:1-2,9)

Is pain trying to point you in some direction today? Like Paul, David and Hannah, who have suffered before us, may it point us to God. He remains our Rock and our Redeemer, our fortress and refuge in our time of trial.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark