'If we would try to put into other words what it means to say that Jesus had compassion, we might say something like ‘his heart was moved for them.’ What the Greek really means is more like ‘his guts churned for them.’ A little bit more graphic, but haven’t you ever seen something happening to someone else and it just turned your stomach because it was so awful? Maybe that’s what it means to have compassion, or in Latin to suffer with somebody. To see someone else’s trouble and to somehow be affected by it, to the point where you cannot help make it part of your own life, not turning away and saying, this doesn’t apply to me.'
July 18, 2021
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III
Gospel reading: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
‘As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.’
If we would try to put into other words what it means to say that Jesus had compassion, we might say something like ‘his heart was moved for them.’ What the Greek really means is more like ‘his guts churned for them.’ A little bit more graphic, but haven’t you ever seen something happening to someone else and it just turned your stomach because it was so awful? Maybe that’s what it means to have compassion, or in Latin to suffer with somebody. To see someone else’s trouble and to somehow be affected by it, to the point where you cannot help make it part of your own life, not turning away and saying, this doesn’t apply to me.
Jesus is so compassionate, our Gospel says, that he began to teach the crowd many things. One might not immediately think that it is the most compassionate thing for Jesus to give the crowds a lecture. But what does it mean to be sheep without a shepherd?
Psalm 23 tells us what it means to have a good shepherd: He restores my soul; he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. A shepherd leads a sheep upon a safe path, so that no one sheep strays and gets lost, far from help. Similarly, for the people to have a shepherd, they must have someone to show them the way. But if there is no shepherd, they can easily become lost in a world that sends us so many mixed messages. And if they have a bad shepherd, one who leads us, not for their benefit but to be exploited, they are even more in need.
Seeing the crowds as sheep without a shepherd, Jesus has compassion – he sees them and his guts churn for them, burning in indignation and sorrow for what is happening to them. And so he brings the people together and tells them who they are and whose they are. The needy crowds are in need of teaching, to be formed as people of God, not to be left alone to grope for their own meaning in life or to believe the lies other people tell them that they are subordinate humans, to be used up for those others’ benefit.
Now it is true that most of us are not used to thinking of ourselves as needy in any way. But even those who are (relatively) well off, who eat three meals a day, who can get medical care if they need it, who have running water and electricity and who can take a vacation every now and then, we too need a shepherd, we too can wander off into paths of unrighteousness.
Look at all the rich people in the world who have no purpose in life other than to get and spend, spend and get! Look at those who are so sated with pleasure that they become desensitized to everything else, to other people’s suffering! Perhaps we do not picture ourselves as these people. But if it is true that the more material comforts we have, the less able we are to have our guts moved by others, then we at least run the danger of forgetting who we are and whose we are. We need the teaching, to remind us of what our money is good for and what it is not good for. And, of course, there will be times when despite the creature comforts that most of us enjoy, life still not make sense. We suffer, we see others suffer; we don’t understand the world; we don’t understand ourselves. It is then we understand our need; for Jesus to be our shepherd and to reorient our lives, to make us more than numbers and consumers and potential voters.
And so when Jesus sees the people in need, he teaches them. But a sound body and a sound mind go together. He teaches them, but he also heals them in their bodies, so that this may not only make them healthy enough to think and pray and act but as an additional sign confirming the efficacy and meaning of the teaching.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. The anointing with oil, redolent of healing, is the sign we used in church and will use again soon to communicate the healing power of God.
Because Jesus is present in his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is by his power that the Church extends itself in healing ministry for the sake of his name. If anyone’s ever been to Passavant Hospital as a patient or as a visitor, you have encounter healing that began when William Passavant, pastor of First Lutheran in Pittsburgh, founded that hospital in Christ’s name for the relief of the sick and injured.
It is not simply the ill who are in need of healing. When a single woman becomes pregnant, and seemingly has no option but an abortion, there are Christians who, for the love of Jesus, will provide for them and give them options and hope, so that there may be a future for both mother and child. In places where there is no clean running water at the twist of a handle, organizations like Water Mission, who, for the love of Jesus, go and give the people what they need to provide hope and a future without water-borne illness. When a woman or a man is put into another’s power and made an object to be bought and sold for sex, there are people who for the love of Jesus will seek to bring them out of this situation, to lead them into a better, safer, healthier life, because they are valued by God.
Jesus indeed from heaven provides for the healing of his people, their nourishment in body so that they may know who they are and whose they are. In the sacrament of Holy Communion he gives his own body and blood to us to forgive us our sins, to form us in the mind of Christ, to bind us together in the family of God. For in this sacrament, we all eat the same food and we all drink the same drink. There is no difference between us, no matter what our race or background, whether or not we live a successful or respectable life in the judgment of the world. No difference, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are woman or man, whether we are child or adult, whether we are educated or uneducated. Perhaps the only reason that there are divisions among us is so that we can learn how little they matter – that Christ came to shepherd us all into the same flock, to teach us and feed us and to guide us in the straight paths.
Jesus still teaches and heals, by the preaching and teaching of the Word, in the eating and drinking of his Supper, and by his healing ministry done by the Church’s hands. We give thanks to God, for in his goodness and mercy he has given us a good shepherd, and we will dwell in his house forever.