“Compassion Driven Service”
Pentecost 3A, Proper 6 – June 18, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8.
Splanchnizomai: A stirring in the bowels, the inner organs that cannot be ignored. It requires action on your part. What does splanchnizomai and compassion have to do with each other?
Has someone you love dearly experienced something tragic, and when you received the news you felt the shock deep within your own gut? It felt like your very insides were reacting to the tragic news. The depth of the discomfort you felt was the measure of the compassion you have for that person.
Our Gospel lesson gives us insight into the depth of the compassion Jesus feels for everyone who is spiritually and physically dis-eased because of their lostness – their disobedience to the will of their Heavenly Father.
The Scene From Matthew’s Gospel. 9:35 – explains what Jesus was doing: “…teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” :36 – explains his motivation: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” :36 & 37 – Driven by his compassion, and desiring to expand his ministry of teaching, proclaiming and healing he turns to his disciples and says: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” 10:1ff – Then Jesus – being the Lord of the Harvest, immediately calls his disciples to go in those harvest fields. And he equipped them with his authority to “drive out impure spirits and heal every disease and sickness.”
Notice the sequence: Jesus is doing the Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5 ). He is motivated by something called ‘compassion’ for the harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. So he immediately turns to his disciples whom he is training to take over his Ministry of Reconciliation and sends them out in to the ministry fields, which are ripe for harvest. How do we fit into all this?
From this incident, we learn that Jesus was driven by his compassion for people who are like sheep without a shepherd. Without a shepherd, they are in danger of injury, illness, infirmity, starvation, being spiritually lost, and murdered by wild animals.
The Key Element In This Drama of Salvation Is Jesus’ Compassion For Us.
So, what is the thing called “Compassion”?
In the languages of the Bible all of your inward organs represent where your emotions take place. Expressions like “heart burn”, “upset stomach”, “queasy feeling”, “stomach acid”, “venting your spleen” and others remain in our language as ways to try and express what we are feeling. And the stronger are our feelings the greater is the level of distress in our gut.
The Greek word I’m most referencing today is splanchnizomai. It most literally means “to have the bowels yearn”. Trying to think through the implications of this I want to suggest that you can be motivated by what you think and by what you feel. If someone you deeply love is in trouble you will “feel” that motivation within your body. When your bowels are upset they control your actions.
For example, I regularly mention different people who have been in the hospital, or are facing surgery, or are having a crisis in their life and most of you have a level of concern or compassion for them, but you are just as likely to forget them when you leave here and enter into the business of your daily life. However, if you have a deep love for one of those persons you ache within yourself because of their trouble. You “feel” something of their pain in your own gut.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “When one part of the body hurts, the entire body hurts.” But we don’t all hurt with the same intensity. The deeper your personal love is for someone the more you will feel compassion for them within your body. That is what splanchnizomai is trying to convey. It is how much Jesus loves each of us.
So, when our Gospel lesson says that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”, it is trying to express the depth of feeling, the absolute identification Jesus has with each of our troubles, pains, worries, anxieties. He feels our “lostness” within his own body. Our pains move him within himself. He doesn’t just remember us when one of us thinks to lift us to him in prayer. He carries us around within himself. His bowels ache with our troubles. It is not easy being the savior of the world. It is why he was so motivated by love for us that he endured the cross for the joy of it. Because he knew the healing, the salvation, the being set free we were going to experience through his action of love and compassion on our behalf.
Have you ever had a pain in your body that is so sharp that it draws the very breath out of you? It stops you in your tracks. It doubles you over. That pain controls you – if but for a moment. That’s the force, the strength of splanchnizomai. That is how much compassion Jesus has for you. Your pain stops him in his tracks and turns his full attention to you. Remember the woman who was suffering with bleeding for years who reached out and touched the hem of his robe. Jesus came to a complete stop and turned to find who it was that touched him. He felt so much compassion for her. He felt her emotional and physical and spiritual pain. He wanted nothing more than to heal her and deliver her from her suffering.
That is why is it so important to love each other. When we are in trouble and need prayer, there will be people who “feel our need” and driven by compassion for us will prayerfully storm the gates of heaven – tearing off the roof of God’s house because Jesus is inside and our loved one needs to be lowered into his presence. That is the force of this compassion Jesus has for all the souls who are lost, lame, injured, ill, infirmed; whom we lift into his presence on the stretchers of our prayers.
Splanchnizomai Is Why We Need To Trust God!
Jesus is the face of the invisible God. So, if Jesus has compassion for us that stops him in his tracks it is his way of declaring, “This is how much your Heavenly Father cares for you”! So, when people come here for prayer we need to be able to add our “amen’s” with a confidence that God loves that person and wants to bring healing to them. We can risk being bold in our prayers for each other because Jesus has splanchnizomai for them and for us. He is compelled by the yearning within himself to stop and pay attention to our distress.
Paul wrote in Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV) :12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.