“And he had compassion for them…”

Friday, November 4, 2011 — Week of Proper 26, Year One

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 990)

Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)

Ezra 7:27-28; 8:21-36

Revelation 15:1-8

Matthew 14:13-36

Jesus is heartsick. He is grieving. Word has come to him of his cousin John’s execution. His lifelong friend and colleague was beheaded in prison. The wanton, capriciousness of the act adds outrage to it all. Herod had John struck down at the behest of a little girl after an exaggerated complement for her dancing for Herod’s guests. Jesus can feel the shadow of threat that extends toward him and threatens to darken his mission.

When Jesus hears of John’s death, he goes away to a deserted place for a while. He needs to think. He needs to hurt. He needs some time.

But some of the crowd that followed him figured it out. They knew the place, and they beat him to it. By the time his little boat had reached the shore near the deserted place, it was not deserted at all. A great crowd had arrived. They want him. They want to use him to heal them They want him to help them. But how drained he must feel.

Then comes one of the most remarkable words in scripture. As Jesus comes ashore, he sees the crowd and knows that they block his access to a quiet place for his grief. The scripture records his reaction: “and he had compassion for them.” Amazing.

Then Jesus returned to work, “and cured their sick.”

To react with compassion when your own energy and defenses are at their lowest doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You must be filled with compassion in order to be compassionate when you are drained.

Recently I listened to an interview by Krita Tippett with Matthieu Ricard, a French Tibetan monk who has been called “The Happiest Man in the World.” He spoke of the necessity of exercising and cultivating compassion if we are to grow in compassion. He offered several analogies. Many people will exercise twenty minutes a day to take care of their bodies, but neglect the twenty minutes of exercise that helps strengthen the mind. A musician cannot learn to master a musical instrument without spending time in practice. But with regular practice, we can learn; we become stronger, more competent. It is the same for compassion or for mental focus. If we will spend time nourishing and practicing compassionate thoughts, our capacity for compassion will grow.

What would it take for my compassion to grow adequately that I might follow Jesus’ example? Jesus invites me to be so compassionate that I would be able to react with gentle care even when I am drained and grieving. That will take considerable practice and growth. It will also take some trust, some grounding in Jesus.

Jesus, I can’t be that compassionate. I need your help. Be compassionate for me and in me. Let your compassion, which is boundless, be in me and flow through me. I wonder if I could ever practice enough to be so compassionate myself. But your compassion is enough, Jesus. Right now. I can trust your strength, especially when I have so little of my own.

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