The Face of Compassion
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5:6
To paraphrase Fr. Richard Rohr from a number of his writings, “God is found where the suffering is.” Nowhere is that more evident than in the accounts of the life of Jesus found throughout the New Testament. This should surprise no one, since Jesus was a manifestation of God in human form. Although it is not clear whether Jesus sought out suffering people, he clearly did not shy away from them, either. Particularly with those who were shunned by society – those with leprosy and other visible infirmities, for example – Jesus not only acknowledged their existence and worth, he healed them.
In the story from the Gospel of John quoted above, Jesus found a lame man lying beside a pool, begging for someone to help him into the pool at the stirring of the water. There was a belief that whoever was first into the pool when the water stirred would be healed. Because of the man’s disability, he was never able to get himself into the pool in time. Jesus asked him if he wanted to be made well. The man complained that he had no one to help him into the water, thinking that was his only hope. Jesus told the man to get up and walk, and the man got up and walked!
The religious elite chose not to rejoice about a lame man who was made well. Rather, they complained that Jesus had violated the Law by healing on the Sabbath. Jesus responded in verse 17: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” In my opinion, too many religious people and institutions continue to focus on rules, laws, and their own perpetuation while ignoring the pain and suffering in their presence. God’s compassionate gaze, manifest in Jesus, would not pass suffering by, regardless of the social norms, laws, or day of the week.
We see this same compassion throughout the ministry of Jesus, including with the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), the man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-27), the woman suffering from hemorrhages (Matthew 9:20-22), and the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:2-10). And here is a lesson for us: God-in-Jesus told us to show compassion, too. For example, in Matthew 25, Jesus told about the judging of the nations and said of those who will inherit the kingdom, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” The crowd asked when these things occurred, and Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” While we may or may not have the ability to completely heal another, any one of us can ease another’s suffering in some way. We serve Jesus when we serve others in need.
Reading the accounts of Jesus and suffering people makes me wonder what he would do if he walked the streets of my hometown today. How would he react to the panhandlers, to the mentally ill, or to the homeless? I walk by them too often, pretending I do not see or hear. I cannot believe Jesus would do the same. How does the compassionate face of God call us to respond to the suffering in our world? That question is one I believe we all wrestle with throughout our lives. We should not be too hard on ourselves as we reconcile our hearts and our actions, however. God’s is a face of compassion and encouragement, not one of condemnation.
Live in the Lawrence, Kansas area? Join the discussion! On the 4th Sunday of each month (i.e., this Sunday, August 27, 2017) at the First United Methodist Church at 10:30 in Brady Hall, we will discuss the previous four weeks of Life Notes. Come share your thoughts and insights!
Note: this is the 22nd in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.