Today, we again meet the original 12 disciples that have returned from their 1st journey to offer God’s hope to the peoples. They are both excited and exhausted. They’ve seen much and done much. They’ve probably had great ‘highs’ of the power of healing as well as terrible ‘lows’ in the frustration of not being able to see that they’ve made a difference. Yup I can understand the complexity of emotions they may be experiencing right now. I am empathic to them…I’m thinking many in this room are as well. Yet feeling this empathy for the disciples is probably not causing most of us to get up and act.
Jesus sees their need, their exhaustion right away and offers them time for quietness and rest to restore their spirits. He sees, he understands, he cares and…He acts…he is compassionate. He is frankly, the epitome of compassion.
We hear the word compassion often in our lives and we often refer to others as compassionate beings. When we apply for jobs and fill out resumes, we may describe ourselves as compassionate. Yet, do we ever take a step back and think…not in just our minds…in our hearts as well…what compassion, compassionate really mean before we ascribe those words to ourselves or another.
Jesus, in verse 34 of our reading today, saw a great crowd; “and He had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
After this thought Jesus doesn’t just sigh…and say, ‘I hear you man’… and then move on to what he has on his plate already…
Jesus knows that having empathy is not enough. He knows that having that emotion that gives us the ability to be able to feel and understand in our own hearts the pain and need that others are experiencing without action will not help others. It is true in our own lives that we are often empathetic to the plight of others but for whatever reason we may not move beyond the emotion of empathy to act out of compassion.
To clarify, compassion is not an emotion…it is a learned way of behavior that yes, some people can adapt to more easily, more naturally than others, but is a behavior that ANY person can learn. …Jesus showed it initially in today’s gospel reading with the 12 disciples who were exhausted from all their work and then he showed it when He saw the crowd. He switched gears to assist all those who had need…he put His own initial needs aside to help them. This is compassion.
It is true and important to understand that we could never have the level of compassion that Jesus has…it is OK…Jesus merely demonstrates for us how to use it and he also explains to us why we use it in our world in verse 34…for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
We know somewhat of how shepherds lead their flocks…we’ve been warned of how false shepherds can lead us astray and that we may fall off the cliff if we don’t turn toward the REAL shepherd. We also know that in Jesus’ commandment that we all love one another he was asking us to be good Shepherds to all the lost sheep. I am not saying that we are to knock on doors and ‘convert’ others…I am saying that we are to follow Jesus’ example and use compassion and use it liberally.
Just as we see in Mark,: we are seeing and learning about how a GOOD AND TRUE shepherd looks out for all of his/her sheep…the dirty, smelly and the irritatingly needy. Do we get angry and frustrated and try to get rid of them…after all there are plenty more sheep…too many to care for: ‘let’s just stick to our own’…some shepherds of today would say.
Those same shepherds have attempted to have us forget that we too have dirty, smelly neediness. They want us to think we are above others. They try to lead us away from sharing in the mutual suffering of being human. Yes, they have brought us close to the edge of the cliff in subtle and in sometimes not so subtle ways.
This Mark reading for today is a much needed reminder that we do not have to be lost sheep. And that we cannot be a self-centered shepherd either. It has reminded us of the importance of moving beyond empathy. God, Jesus, the HS…our triune shepherd shows us how and explains to us why we reach out and love one another.
We must act…not out of pity for pity is a self-righteous thought that leads us to place ourselves above others…we act out of compassion…understanding ourselves what it means to be a lost sheep without a shepherd…for we all have had times when we have been lost. Or times when we have lost another and the pain we have felt has been enormous!
We have been reminded again today that we are all a part of the deep neediness of Humankind and to be truly connected to others…to truly be in relationship with other as Jesus is in relationship with us…we must be compassionate and not only see the pain behind the façade of our human existence we must act upon it. We must act on it today, tomorrow and all of our tomorrows.