Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
— Matthew 9:35-38
Ellie Wiesel is famous for so very many things, not the least of which is his legacy as a survivor of the Holocaust, and the witness he left for all in his writings. He wrote:
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
I cannot help but think that Jesus was never guilty of indifference. The gospels record for us that Jesus “had compassion” on the crowds. Our word compassion means literally to feel with and comes from the deepest parts of our very being. The Greek antecedent can best be described as a reference to “gut” and moving, or at least that’s how I will render it among fine church folk. To feel with seems such a simple phrase and yet it asks so very much of us.
It asks us to let the experience of another touch us deeply enough that for at least some moments we can see the world from that perspective. It is an invitation to know the pains of another, and to allow those pains to reach deep within us. When I know the pain of your heart, I can never be indifferent. When I truly understand the pain, the joy, the challenge of your life, I can be cruel or I can be kind, but I can never be indifferent. I cannot merely turn away and pretend I do not know, because now I do.
Our world needs that kind of compassion, that kind of deep shared experience. To know the pains of another is to know that we are called to care for one another, to “bear one another’s burdens” as Galatians 6:2 reminds us.
Blest Be the Tie v. 3 & 4
We share each other’s woes,
our mutual burdens bear;
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
it give us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.
Unite our hearts, O God of all Compassion, that we may hold for one another the sorrow and the joy of life. Grant that your people may never be indifferent. In the name of the one who was love incarnate. Amen.
Pastor Tom Greener