"Compassion Community," Pastor Fred Kinsey
I’ve got a pretty cast iron stomach. When it comes to food, bring it on, I’ll try anything! Hot and spicy – sure, I can take it! Anchovies on your pizza, let’s do it! Three course meal, and 4 trips back to the desert table – you bet! Leftovers need to be eaten that no one else trusts anymore? I’m your man! I’ve always got room for more, and you’ll never hear a complaint from this gut. My innards are strong, and I never heave my cookies.
In the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, Jesus seems strong, and the story seems pretty straight forward. Weeping mother? No problem, Jesus resuscitates the son with a commanding word, “young man, I say to you, rise!” The one who will himself be raised from the dead, demonstrates his power over death, right?! And so, the funeral procession ends abruptly, before they even reach the cemetery, and all the people glorify God saying, “A great prophet has risen…” …pun intended!
Straight forward story, except for one little word, compassion. “When the Lord saw [the widow from Nain weeping for her only son being carried out in the funeral procession], he had compassion for her.” This word, compassion, has a rather long and complex history. But suffice it to say that in the earliest Greek literature it designated the innards of the sacrificial victim ripped out during a ritual blood sacrifice. Now, that turns my stomach a little! Others have suggested, from the Hebrew root of the word, something a bit more palatable and also more inclusive: a churning of the intestines or a turning of the womb. Others simply define it as having pity or mercy on someone; to be viscerally moved; to feel deeply in one’s gut or womb. And so, Jesus literally has a gut reaction, a physical sense of pain, in sympathy for the widow. Jesus has compassion in his womb, you might say. Or finally, and most up to date, from dictionary.com, compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
It’s probably not by accident that the Gospel of Luke describes the object of Jesus’ compassion, this nameless widow, using the pronoun “her” three times in just one sentence: “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
And so the reason that Jesus is moved to action for the dead son, is because of what he sees in the grieving mother – she who has lost doubly, now. First her husband died. Now her only son has died too. And widows without sons, have no financial footing, no social standing in the community, and often had to turn to the Temple Tithes to feed themselves. This only son was her last hope of a stable home, and honor amongst her own, before almost certain destitution. And when Jesus saw her and the son being carried in funeral procession, he felt a strong feeling in his gut, a sour churning, and deep sympathy, that moved him to alleviate her loss and shame.
Like the Good Samaritan, in the parable Jesus will later tell in this gospel, one who Luke says also had compassion, in his case for a man left-for-dead by the side of the road, Jesus also goes out of his way to intervene, and doesn’t just pass by on the other side of the road. Jesus comes near, to address the weeping woman, and touch the funeral bier, and to restore the widow’s only son, that they might be family again.
E. Louise Williams, a writer from Valparaiso, IN calls this “womb-love,” the kind of “love that knows that mother and child are inseparably connected. It is love that desires the child to grow into the fullness of life, that knows when to hold and embrace, [and] when to let go and… to push the child out of the nest into the world.” It is the kind of love and wisdom that parents and extended family have who bring their child to the font for baptism. It is the longing we all have for belonging to a community and a support system, that is connected by the authentic visceral feelings deep within us, and a strong compassionate desire for protection and support of one another.
Is this the reason perhaps, why we are paralyzed and still in shock, or angry and depressed at the continued Great Recession, and its intolerable inattention to jobs so many continue to suffer? This too, is something that turns my stomach, and causes consternation and deep pain! How can we be community when so many are suffering? How can we, as a caring community, walk on the other side of the street and avoid the unemployed and under-employed among us? How can we throw billions of dollars down rabbit holes of protracted oversea wars, and allow and enable the rich to get richer, while austerity is imposed on those who have less and less? Answers are ready, available, and at hand: e.g., a Wall Street, or “Robin Hood” sales tax, like the rest of us are subject to in the market place, would begin to restore justice. Infrastructure, like bridges and roads, are crumbling and in dire need of workers; affordable housing is in great demand; and alternative energy jobs are begging to be created to help save us from climate change. But without this little word, compassion, has it all become too complex, too overwhelming? Without compassion – a reaching out in sympathy – where is the authentic desire to move us to action?
In the early church, as a reaction to the compassionate outreach of Jesus toward widows, orphans and immigrants, the community welcomed and included these persons of marginal social standing, and, more than that, began to create jobs for them. They were made deacons and leaders in their communities and supported as if they were family, and in effect, the church wiped away the stigma of outcast, poor, and stranger. The gathered community was its own support system. Everyone was welcome, and every one willing to work for the building up of the whole, following the compassionate example of Jesus, had a place at the table.
Do we have compassion? Do we recognize it in ourselves? Jesus suggests that deep within, each of us has this capacity for sympathy-in-action. Compassion is like a seed germinating in the womb, planted by God personally into each of us. And it grows and awakens who we are called to be, a churning and turning of our spiritual awareness and life.
Without compassion, this sympathy-in-action, where would community come from? The creation of community, and web and strength of life-giving connectivity, is nurtured and made possible, by this initial and deeply implanted seed of caring-compassion.
If compassion is sympathy-in-action for the person in need – the widow, the outcast, the stranger, the poor – Jesus, the resurrected giver of new life, calls us to be co-creators in community with one another, and to have compassion in our life-giving womb and guts. Jesus gives us birth for compassionate-community through his life-giving Spirit, and here today, through water and the word. And we are baptized, all of us, in a new life, and therefore called and set apart from the world – a world that would use us up, divide and split us up, and not even notice or care when our support system, our community, has been decimated or taken away.
But today, we celebrate this compassionate love, as the love of parent for a child, and the life-giving miracle we all have planted within. We don’t need a cast iron stomach for compassion, in fact we probably want to feel a kicking and stirring within, to feel God’s churning and turning us, creating us to be a reaching-out and connecting people, for the gestation and restoration of a just and life-giving community.