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, May 1

“Empathy”

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.” Hebrew 4:15

 

An article in the Atlantic magazine highlights New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. The article contends that the 39 year old may be the most effective leader on the planet because her leadership style focuses on empathy.

The article continues, “Her messages to the country are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing.” Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says, “People feel that Arden ‘doesn’t preach at them, she’s standing with them’”. She concludes, “There is a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy.”

Not everyone agrees with her politics or policies. But if proof is in the pudding, New Zealand has presumably eliminated the country of Covid19 and people are free to move about the country. As a country, they acted quickly and deliberately. The people trusted the directives of their leaders and now they are reaping the benefits.

The writer of Hebrews says that we have one who has empathy toward the world. He writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been temped in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” He continues, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Jesus demonstrated empathy. So, what exactly is “empathy”?

Empathy is different than sympathy or compassion. Empathy goes deeper. Compassion and sympathy involve having concerned feelings for another person or situation. Empathy is going further than just feelings. Empathy is walking in the shoes of another person. Empathy is “feeling” their pain.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ, our high priest, has empathy towards us because he has walked in our shoes. He knows what we suffer and experience because he has fully lived as a human being. And because he has worn our shoes, we are encouraged to approach God’s throne with confidence because we will receive mercy and grace. Jesus knows. Jesus understands. Jesus feels our pain!

It seems like we could use a bit more empathy as we move closer to opening our economy in the United States. We need people to walk in other people’s shoes. Another scripture verse that points us in this direction is found in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

There are pictures of people carrying signs declaring that Covid19 is a lie. Perhaps those people need to walk a few steps in the shoes of the doctors in downtown New York. I’m sure Dr. Lorna Breen, who tragically took her life due to ultimate physical and emotional pain, could have exposed them to radical pain inflicted by this virus. So also, government leaders need to walk in the shoes of those who have lost their jobs, savings, retirement and small business – and feel hopeless!

The presence of empathy, points to the quality and condition of one’s EQ – Emotional Quotient. For years, tests have been given to students, to discover their “IQ” – Intelligence Quotient. More and more studies are pointing to the importance of having a healthy “EQ”.  Healthy emotional wellbeing is what allows a person to weather storms. Emotional stability allows one to remain buoyant when pandemics, health issues, finances, business, and education is being tossed about. Faith is found in one’s “EQ” more so than one’s “IQ”.  We can be right in our minds theologically, but we can still be a mess spiritually.

Our hope is in the One who has empathy for us. He has put on our shoes and walked down our road. He also promised to send another One, the Comforter. The Spirit would slip on our socks, so to speak, and we would never walk alone.

After this pandemic, if we, as the church, are going to effectively share Jesus, it’s going to require that we lace up a pair of shoes other than our own. People are not going to care as much about our theology as much as our empathy. When we demonstrate that we care enough to feel other people’s pain and share their burdens, then they will be interested in what we believe. This goes for our family, friends, children and grandchildren.

People were drawn to Jesus. They were not drawn to him because he spoke a soft, comforting message. Jesus was straight and clear. He told people they would have to die and pick up their cross and leave everything behind to follow him. But people were drawn to him because he empathized with every single person he came in contact with. He connected on that deep level; emotionally, spiritually. He even empathized with the religious leaders and scribes. He prayed for their forgiveness, even when they took his life.  

Hebrews 2:17-18 states, “For this reason, he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Empathy means, “suffering together”. When we suffer together, trust and confidence grow. When trust and confidence grow, we overcome together.   

Pray that as a nation, we can move beyond blaming one another and pointing fingers. Let us stop, look and listen. Let us put on the shoes of our brothers and sisters who are facing challenges different than our own. Let us feel that pain, share that burden together, and grow in unity.

Let us follow our Leader, Jesus Christ, and lead with empathy!

If anyone is interested, I wear size 11, but I can squeeze into a 10.5. I’m ready to try on a pair of yours!   

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark