He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.   Mark 6:34.

 

The Gospels teach that Jesus had compassion for many people who came to him in their time of need. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus has compassion for the people who are described as sheep without a shepherd.

What is compassion? To show compassion is to share a person’s suffering and to do something to bring relief to the person. Compassion is more than feelings, it requires action. Feelings without action serve no useful purpose.

The Gospels present Jesus as a compassionate person. We see his compassion as he forgives the sins of sinners, heals the sick and feeds the hungry. The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the great stories that teach the true meaning of compassion. It is of interest to note that Jesus’ compassion attended to both the physical and spiritual needs of people with whom he came into contact.

 

The Gospel is a challenge to the church and society to become compassionate communities that respond to the physical and spiritual needs of persons. It is a call to emulate the example of Jesus Christ and to use our resources to bring relief to people in their time of need and to release them from anything that robs them of a meaningful life. Jesus’ understanding of compassion is made clear with his opening sermon in the synagogue:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. Luke 4:18-19.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus shows his compassion for the crowd described as sheep without a shepherd. How does he show his compassion? It is shown in two ways: he teaches the crowd and he feeds them. He meets their spiritual and physical needs. Many persons have problems with striking a balance between these two aspects of Christian service. Some people share the view that the church’s social ministry is all we need to make Christ present in our society and the world at large. Some hold the view that the Church should only be concerned with people’s spiritual needs. Some people believe that the church should only preach the Gospel and take part in worship activities. These are false assumptions.

 

Both sides are wrong; It is not a case of either or. Christianity recognises that people have spiritual and physical needs, any kind of ministry that only caters to one aspect of a person’s needs is short changing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not bearing faithful witness to the teaching of Our Lord. The Church’s compassionate ministry must be twofold: it must help people to change their sinful lives and to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and it must address their physical and social needs.

 

Many Christians limit Christianity to preaching and close their eyes to people’s social and physical needs. They preach a pie in the sky religion which bears no relation to the realities of daily living. This concept of Christianity does not liberate people; it keeps them in bondage and does not bring about the Kingdom of God. It is a cheap Christianity which does great damage to the image of the church; it fails to become the salt of the earth and the light to the nations.

 

It is difficult to tell people that God loves them and do nothing to alleviate their suffering. How can we preach about God’s love and tell people that God cares for them when their lives are characterised by suffering, pain, domestic problems and abuse? How can we preach about God’s love to people who experience violence and war on a daily basis, people who live in abject poverty; people whose lives are tormented as a result of sin? Yes, we can preach about God’s love but it will only be meaningful when we put it into action. Love is best expressed in action. We have to be actively involved in the spiritual and physical lives of people if we really want them to experience God’s love.  St. James writes: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

 

James makes the point that Christian love must always be demonstrated in action. The compassionate church is a caring church that demonstrates its love for God in action. We take note of James’ teaching:

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2: 14-17.

 

The compassionate church must go beyond feeling ‘sorry’ and do something to bring about a change in the conditions that give rise to suffering. We are to be a church that cares and shares.

 

Our parish seeks to strengthen our outreach ministries because we hope to become a compassionate parish. Our ministry to the Geriatric Hospital, plans for a ministry to the aged, the Dies Martis Programme, our health checks to members and non members, our plans for an AIDS Ministry and other planned projects are undertaken because we recognise that to be compassionate we must be involved in helping to bring relieve to human suffering and assist people with their needs. Any congregation that is worth its salt must be engaged in outreach ministries however small or limited they may be.

 

Every member of this congregation has a responsibility to support and make a commitment to our outreach to the community. It can be very distressing when members fail to respond to this vital ministry. A case in point is the ministry we call SAME (So all may eat) which we will observe in a few minutes from now.  This ministry has been part of parish life for a long time but they are some members who have never come to the altar to make a donation of money or food to it. The selfishness and greed which characterise life in the secular world is found in the church. This ought not to be so; we must accept the challenge to cast our bread upon the water. The words of Christ are instructive: `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.'

 

The Gospel also has a message for the society at large. As a society we should do all we can to alleviate human suffering and need. It is really a call to become a people who care for each other and help each other in time of need. This concept of community living is not always evident in our national life. Very often we close our eyes to the suffering and needs of our brothers and sisters as we pursue our own goals.

 

Some may ask why do we fail as a people to be compassionate? The present emphasis on the individual is a contributing factor. We are so caught up with ourselves and personal interests which make it difficult for us to think of the other. The society says we must be successful and so we embark on a mission of success which becomes very personal and has no time for other people. The pressures of finance, the cost of living, personal failures and disappointments, domestic issues and the like are all factors that prevent us from being compassionate. We are faced with the challenge of making ends meet and for most of us the focus is on survival, many persons are just trying to survive.  But for many persons selfishness, greed, envy and jealousy, are factors that stand in the way of acting compassionately. Some of us fail to show compassion because we allow selfishness to dictate our action. There is the belief that what we have we should keep for ourselves. There is the element of greed which says keep what you have and get what you can. The result of all this is that we live in a society where the community spirit has broken down and people do not really care for each other. Maybe, it is part of the price we pay for modern development and life in a technological age.

 

Let us endeavour as members of the church and citizens of our nation to overcome all the challenges and obstacles that that have the potential to prevent us from becoming a compassionate people. When we experience compassion, we forget our own needs and get occupied with the needs of others.

 

Jesus cares for us and shares all our life experiences. Because he is compassionate he will come to us in time of need. Jesus calls us to be compassionate Christians. A compassionate Christian is a Good Samaritan.

 

“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

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