Second Sunday after Pentecost 18 June 2017
(Exodus 19:2-8 Psalm 100 Romans 5:1-8 Matthew 9:35-10:23)
Jesus obviously knew something quite crucial about people and about disciples that we see in today’s Gospel text from Matthew. What Jesus knew in sending us out to be disciples is that we need to learn compassion. That’s the only way, no matter how hard-hearted and obstinate the audience. To the harassed and helpless we are sent, even when it feels as if we are sheep being sent into the midst of wolves.
Compassion is always the key!
There was a time when I thought everyone learned compassion intuitively or at least, one learned compassion from watching parents. I’m less sure today how we learn compassion, or how we best learn it.
I find some provocative clues in the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This novel centers on a Southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, whom the townspeople revile as “no better than trash” because he defended a Black man in court. This lawyer puts it as well as I’ve ever heard when he tells his daughter: “You never really understand a person until . . . you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I often wonder how many of us are truly there!
I think we very often “feel sorry” for persons. We often “pity” people because of circumstances they might find themselves in. But “feeling sorry” and “feeling pity” are both reactions almost totally from the outside. Compassion is different. Compassion literally means, “I suffer with you.”
In the Greek and Hebrew the word compassion is related to the word used for womb and suggests some deep inner feeling where life unfolds. I think that’s an amazing insight—to realize that new life can unfold in a person who is shown deep compassion from another.
I guess that is why I find Matthew’s choice of words so intriguing and suggestive. He writes that, “When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them” [9:36]. For most of us, when we see a crowd, we see a crowd. Or, when we see a person, we see a person.
But there is something different with Jesus. When Jesus sees a person or a crowd, Jesus sees beyond their voice, deeper than their outward appearance. Jesus saw much more; He saw what they needed. And, I believe, He saw what people needed, not because Jesus was God, but because Jesus was so completely human!
As disciples, we are never expected to be God. But we are called to be human enough, vulnerable enough to suffer with another person in order to realize more deeply what that person might need. We are called “to climb into their skin and walk around in it,” to offer new life to another, simply by choosing to suffer with another, if you will!
Afterall, in a world where it seems almost natural to be cynical of anything happening in politics, where the one place where Congress gets along with each other—on the baseball field—even that place is disrupted by violence.
In the Gospel, Jesus’ compassion is stirred up over sheep who are literally harassed and lying on the ground.
Out of compassion, Jesus then summons 12 disciples and commissions them with the same power that he possesses, so they will imitate Christ through service to the suffering.
After calling the Twelve, Jesus sends them out as itinerant missionaries who are to continue his mission with reliance on God rather than on human acceptance. And then something interesting happens here in Matthew’s Gospel. Unlike in Mark’s Gospel, in Matthew, the disciples are not to enter non-Jewish territory. In Matthew, the mission to the nations, the task to preach the Gospel to all peoples, seems to be relegated to the post-resurrection church. It seems here in Matthew, it is only after the resurrection, when the followers of Jesus are then summoned to make disciples of all people.
So, how do we understand this mission of the church without thinking about Baptism? Dietrich Bonheoffer’s vision for the church has a lot in common with the writings of Martin Luther, who took seriously the idea of our being called to participate with God in the world.
In Jesus, Luther saw a God who had made the whole world and had come in the flesh to be a part of it. This was all-important to God; nothing is disposable—everything and everyone is worth keeping.
In Baptism God puts a claim on our lives. Marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are declared an extension of the work of Jesus and called to remember daily that God has claimed us and is with us in all things.
We celebrate Baptisms pretty often in this church. Today are baptizing Reese Avery and the promise is made to the baptized one that we have been united with Christ—we are never anywhere apart from God. In baptism, we have been put on notice—what we do matters!
Baptism sets us into action! Compassion moves us into genuine relationship with each other. Humility helps us realize that we can do together what we cannot do alone. If, indeed, we believe that the Kingdom of God has come near, then we also need to believe in a way of living that makes it easier for people to be better than we are right now. We are sent as were the disciples in the Gospel, as people who believe so much in another type of world that we cannot help but begin making it happen right now! Amen.