From Compassion to Action

Human beings have an interesting and sometimes complicated relationship with our own emotions.  As children, we try to learn to manage them.  Everything is immediate and everything is a crisis.  Then we hit puberty, and our emotions become a hormone fed firestorm.  As then as young adults, we begin to learn to regulate our emotions, until our brain finishes developing, which scientists now tell us happens somewhere around age 25.

But it’s not like we master our emotions at that point.  Some wear their emotions on their sleeve; we know everything they feel. Others, like myself, come from a midwestern, Scandinavian, stoic background, and our emotions live deep below the surface.  At least until the Viking Packer games.  Then all bets are off.

Emotions play an important role in our Gospel story today.  It is the story of the feeding of the 5,000.

It’s the only story of Jesus’ miracles that appears in all four of the Gospel books.  So, you know it’s an important story.  We tend to think of this story as an independent, stand-alone kind of story:

  • People were hungry
  • There was no food
  • Jesus performed a miracle
  • Everyone was fed. The end.

But we actually cannot separate this story from the events that precede it.

Before the feeding of the 5,000, there were two really significant things that happened.

First, Jesus went home.  He returned to Nazareth…to his hometown…and he began to teach and to preach there.  But the people from Nazareth didn’t respond the way Jesus hoped: “What?  Who is this?  This is Jesus?  Why, it’s just Mary and Joseph’s son!  He’s so cute!  Look at him try and preach!”  And they paid him no attention.  They rejected him.  They walked away. And full of sadness, Jesus sighed and said  “prophets in their own land, receive no respect.”

And then, after his trip home, Jesus received word of the death of his good friend, and his cousin, John the Baptist.  John had been murdered.

And the scripture says that Jesus “withdrew.”

This was a highly emotional time for Jesus, and he just needed a chance to be away.  So, he went up the mountain, presumably to think, to pray, to grieve, and to rest.  Remember that while Jesus was fully God, he was also fully human, and so he felt the full range of human emotions that you and I feel.  He was emotionally wrung out, and he climbed that hill to get away.

But the crowds wanted to hear from him.  They wanted his wisdom…his healing…and so they went looking for him.  In fact, they didn’t even stop to grab food…they heard where he was, and they just went.  And when Jesus came and saw this crew of 5,000 men, plus women and children, so probably 10-12,000, the scripture says something interesting:  It says that “Jesus felt compassion for them, and that he cured their sick.”

He felt compassion.  And he acted.  He stepped beyond his own grief, his own exhaustion…beyond his own compassion fatigue…and he acted.  He healed the sick.  And when he saw that they were hungry, he took their food and multiplied it, so that everyone was taken care of…everyone was fed…and everyone had what they needed.

You see, it is one thing to have compassion, but it is quite another to act on it.  The Greek word the scriptures use to describe Jesus’ compassion is “esplagchnisthe,” which refers to a particular kind of compassion; it refers to a gut-wrenching, visceral desire to care.  Jesus had experienced rejection, then he’d experienced a horrible loss, and now the people who have come to see him need healing, and food, and so he experienced this gut-wrenching compassion, and he acted.  He moved from compassion to action by healing the sick, and then feeding the hungry.

Let’s think about this kind of compassion for a moment.

I heard a story this past week, from Diane Falken, one of our good, Trinity people, who does volunteer work in the Twin Cities for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  Diane told me about Max.

In 2018, Max was a young boy with a critical heart condition.  It had been a long, difficult journey.  But Max had a wish…a dream…a hope…and the Make-A-Wish Foundation and its donors and volunteers are in the business of granting wishes to these kids.  More than anything else, Max wanted to be a Minnesota Twin.  And so, Make-A-Wish went to work.  Watch what happened next:

My friends…from compassion to action.  That is what Max experienced on that day with Brian Dozier and the Minnesota Twins.  And in the scheme of things, it may seem small…but prior to Max’s death in July of 2018.  This act of compassion brought life, and joy and hope…it brought what Max described as “the best day of my life.”

My friends…from compassion to action.  That is what Jesus did that day, on that hillside. He needed to rest…he needed a retreat…instead he chose to move from compassion to action.  The disciples were flabbergasted.  They looked at Jesus and said “we’ve got nothin’…we’ve got enough food for about 2½ fish sandwiches…that’s it!  Jesus, send these people home!”  And Jesus said: “They don’t have to go away.   Feed them.”  And hungry people were fed.  Compassion to action.

My friends, from compassion to action.  That is what Jesus did when he went to the cross.  Because of his great love for you, he took his compassion…and he moved to action.  He poured himself out, for you.

My friends, from compassion to action.  That is what Jesus calls us to.  And so I wonder:  What is it that lights you up?  What is it that cause you to have “esplagchnisthe,”, that gut-wrenching, visceral kind of compassion?  What moves you from compassion to action?

For me, it’s when I see children who are hurting.  When they’re hungry, or they don’t have shelter, or they are in need of care.  When I see kids experiencing these things, I feel it…and I am moved to act.

For Diane, and the other volunteers at Make A Wish, it is when they see kids experiencing significant health issues…the kinds that destroy hope, that they are moved to act.

What is it for you?  Is it homelessness?  Is it hunger?  Is it empowering women?  Is it advocating for health, or for refugees, or for justice?  What can move you from compassion to action?  I’m interested…I want to know, because it opens a window into your heart.  Here we go…let’s do this.  In the comments below this video…I want you to please put it in…type it right there…let me see what it is that moves your heart.  Go ahead a do it.  Right now.  Hunger? Poverty? Mental health?  What makes you feel?  Let your first act be to share it right here, right now.  (I’ll wait).

I’ll admit, there are days when we all feel pretty empty; especially lately. We feel anxious about the future, and we are tired, and we are ready to be done.  We feel like those disciples on the hillside: “Jesus,” we say, “we’ve got next to nothin’ left!”  But to quote one of my teachers and mentors, Dr. David Lose, “Next to nothing is Jesus’ favorite thing to work with.”

Because the good news is, it’s not up to us.

  • The love and compassion that the people on that hillside experienced came from Jesus.
  • The love and compassion that little Max experienced…it came from Jesus.
  • The love, grace and compassion that you experience every day…it comes from Jesus on the cross.
  • And the love and compassion that you are called to act on…to share…well guess what…that comes from Jesus too.

Let Jesus point you in the right direction.  Jesus is calling you to take that gut-wrenching compassion that you feel, that “esplagchnisthe,” and to act…to move on it…to change the world.  Trust that Jesus will take what you have, and like those fish and loaves, will multiply it.

And blessed by the Holy Spirit, compassion will become action, and lives around us will change, through Jesus’ great love.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

*Video of Max used by permission of Make-A-Wish Minnesota

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