TEXT: Luke 7,10,15
4 Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. 5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day. 6 Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, For they have been from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; According to Your lovingkindness remember me, For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord. (Psalm 25:4-7)
Last week I spoke about the early Christians who found reason to trust and hope in God in the face of persecution and unrest. They understood God to be greater than the nations and the powers of this world. My intent was to look to scripture for a word to us as we face the uncertainties of the future and the great political turmoil in our country and the world right now. Then this week the country witnessed the deaths of two men at the hands of police officers, deaths on the same day in two different parts of the country.. Two black men: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in St. Paul. Then only one day later, eleven police officers were shot in Dallas, and five of those died.
In politics, our country is divided in half, with each half thinking the other is completely deceived, if not the enemy.
With respect to race, our country is divided, with a majority of black and white seeing the same events and coming away with a radically different narrative and explanation.
My goal this morning is not to ‘solve’ either dilemma (nor could I); nor is it to suggest the ‘right’ way to understand politics or race. Rather, I want to make an appeal to compassion. I do so because that’s what I read in scripture. I read about a compassionate God who calls on his people to be compassionate people. I did not write much online about these events, but what I did write is this:
Compassion… is a necessary first step to living and loving beyond ourselves and what we and the whole of the human race needs to survive and flourish.
This morning I want to read three accounts of compassion from the Gospel of Luke. I am going to trust the texts largely to speak for themselves, and simply add a comment or question or two after each one for you to ponder. We may have a bit of silence after each one as you ponder the question. My hope is that the Holy Spirit would stir up godly compassion. If that can happen, I think the Lord will be pleased to use that.
I’m taking these in the order they come, which is interesting in and of itself. The first one is of a mother’s loss.
A Mother’s Loss (Luke 7:11–16)
11 Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. 12 Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!”
Jesus did not inquire into the reasons for death or the worthiness of the widow or her son for a miracle. And she did not approach him to ask for one. His heart simply went out to her, to a loss that is one of the hardest we have to bear. A widow had lost her only son in this world and was grief-stricken. And Jesus felt compassion.
I could not help but be moved by Alton Sterling’s son, Cameron, by Philando Castile’s girlfriend who was in the car when he was shot, and her young daughter in the back seat. I have not seen, but can only imagine the grief-stricken mothers, wives, and children of the police officers killed in Dallas.
What is our first response to these griefs? Is it to post about our understanding of “Black Lives Matter?” Is it to assert our position, pro or con, on gun rights? Might it be the case that pausing to identify and identify with grief and loss, to experience compassion and show compassion, might even reframe our understanding and communication of the related issues?
[a moment for silent reflection]
Consider a second story from Luke. It is one of the more familiar stories, about a stranger’s need.
A Stranger’s Need (Luke 10:30–37 )
30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 “And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 “Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 “On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
There’s so much to convict me in that story, not the least of which is that I share a profession with the priest and Levite. In one sense, I can always reach for the excuse, “I’m about the Lord’s business” – even when I’m not. It’s so easy to look at the stranger hurting on the side of the road and decide that they got themselves into that trouble and can get themselves out. It’s too complicated to get involved.
But where Jesus really snags his audience isn’t on ignoring the stranger, it’s in highlighting the hero. The Samaritan was unexpected; the priest and Levite, not to mention Jesus’ audience, would have wanted less to do with the Samaritan than with the hurt stranger. There was history with the Samaritan’s – religious history, racial history, and political history. And the Samaritan felt compassion and showed compassion.
Jesus asks, “who proved to be a neighbor?” It was not the ones with the right religion, race, or politics. It was the one who showed mercy. And THEN, Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
Where do you find yourself in the story? Where are you challenged? Where would Jesus lead you?
[a moment for silent reflection]
Finally, Luke tells a third story, perhaps even more well-known than the last.
A Father’s Love (Luke 15:11–24)
11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’ 20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ ”
There’s so much in this story; I could talk all day long about it and I could sit and learn from it all day long. It’s full of the human experience – relationships, selfishness, wrong behavior, consequences, compassion, mercy, celebration, judgment, resentment, and sorrow.
It takes very little effort for me to be the older brother. I was literally the responsible older brother and I played out this very scenario more than once, jealous that my dutiful behavior was not rewarded and my younger brother was (seemingly) let off the hook. I’ve also experienced a bit of the younger brother, choosing my own way and reaping the consequences, only to find some person (or God) incomprehensibly forgiving. Perhaps the most tragic part of this story is seeing the older brother through the Father’s eyes and realizing what joy the older is missing out on because of his blindness to mercy. There is much to ponder for us between the two sons, and most of us have figuratively been both at some point in our lives.
But I’m also struck by the Father in the story. He is not a merciful judge, who simply relents in sentencing and lets the guilty son off the hook. He is a loving father, even a foolish one by the standards of Jesus’ day, who looked each day for his son’s return, who did not wait for the son to reach him, but ran spectacularly to greet his son, moved by his compassion and love for his son. Compassion (v. 20) from a long way off. THAT is what the Father lavishes on the son… and on us. It is the same compassion commended in each of these stories in Luke, and what Jesus commends in us.
As you think about our country and the people in it, what does it mean for you to have compassion from a long way off? To celebrate the lost being found? To not miss out on what God is doing?
And is it not a central command of scripture that we love as God has loved us? That reshapes everything. Compassion is a game-changer.
I am convicted freshly again how I fall short when it comes to compassion. But Christ invites us again and again to turn to him. So I take these stories as an invitation to commit to the compassion of the Father through Christ the Son. Let’s pray:
Compassionate Father, I pray today for open eyes and an open heart, in matters of race, politics, economics, religious conviction, relationships, and more. I pray for open eyes and an open heart that leads to godly compassion lived out towards my neighbors near and far, even as you, Father, have shown it to me. May it begin with me; may it begin with us. Amen.