I have this vivid memory from 7th grade. I was on my bed in my pink and white frilly childhood bedroom, decked out in the latest grunge fashion – vintage t-shirt, baggy jeans, dark eyeliner. On my bedside table was My First Sony red CD player repeating one song over and over again – R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” Do you remember that song? The song croons “Well, everybody hurts sometimes/Everybody cries/Everybody hurts sometimes.” Do you remember what it is like to be in 7th grade? The song seemed to be written for me – for me, a young girl confused and angsty, in the throws of balancing all the stresses of a middle school life. That song made me feel heard, seen, like someone knew me and affirmed what I felt. It comforted me down in my soul and I fell asleep to the sound of someone singing what can only be described as compassion. Hearing the song now still brings tears to my eyes – the thought that for a pure moment, someone chose compassion and I, in turn, found solace.
Compassion – it seems – can do that for someone: can be the salve for wounds deep and often untouched.
The story we read this morning is a couplet with last week’s story of Jesus healing the Centurion’s servant. In Luke 7:1-10, we see Christ as miracle worker. In this passage, 7:11-17, we see Christ as miracle worker and someone who is incredibly powerful – powerful enough to bring back the dead. Together, these texts point to the recurring Lukan themes of Christ as Messiah and as Prophet. It is Jesus who offers salvation and he is sent by God as a messenger. This story only appears in Luke and for that reason, I’m drawn to what unique Good News it has for us.
And I think there are actually two distinct pieces of Good News Gospel-ness in this passage. The first – you might guess – is how Jesus expressed his Christ-ness in raising a dead man, bringing him back to life. This is an act only possible through the divine nature of Jesus. It is a foreshadow of what is to come for Christ himself. It is salvific and is something Christ alone can accomplish.
But I offer this as a second piece of Good News in our passage – Christ’s actions towards the widow and the grieving mother.
Widows had it horrible in Christ’s time. They had no power, no authority. And now, this woman’s only son has died. We do not know how old the two were but remember, women married young and had children young so I imagine, in many ways, these two grew up together, binding them as mother and child but also as companions, especially since the widow’s husband was gone. We do not know how the son died but however it happened, to lose a child at any age is a loss reserved for the darkness of the longest night.
And it is in this darkness, in this grief, that Jesus meets the widow. Hear it again: “As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came forward and touched the bier…”
Jesus’ instinct moved him to care for the mother, for the widow first. No doubt, he saw the man on the bier being carried by his community. But he chose to care for the mourning woman before caring for her dead son. We hear – When the Lord saw her – and Jesus named as Lord, kyrios, underscoring his divine power and linking his salvific nature to this very next move. The Lord saw her – saw the woman. Didn’t glance at her, didn’t let his eyes flit fast past her but instead, saw her and in seeing her, chose to do something about it.
This next word sounds a bit ugly in Greek but its meaning is incredible – σπλαγχν?ζομαι which means “to be moved with pity or compassion from someone’s insides.” Literally, it means “to be moved from one’s innards” but let’s think of it like someone’s gut – someone’s gut feeling. You know when you feel something deeply and your body responds, often from your gut? This is what compassion meant for Jesus and for those in his time. To be so taken by something or someone or a situation that one’s body responds with compassion. This σπλαγχν?ζομαι is an intense inner emotion and sympathy that accompanies mercy. Luke uses this word in two later stories, when the Samaritan sees the stripped and beaten man (10:33), and when the father sees his prodigal son for the first time far down the road (15:20).
Christ does not let his compassion remain inside but instead, I imagine, moves him to look straight into the grieving mother’s eyes and tenderly say, “Do not weep.” Perhaps he put his hand on her shoulder, perhaps he wiped her tears. Perhaps he hushed all those around her so that she could hear him. Perhaps he held her for a long time before he spoke so that she could feel the compassion emanate from his every fiber of being. Christ took his compassion and let it move him – move him to action – move him to an act of salvation for this woman. To be seen, affirmed, cared for – it can make all the difference.
The compassion Jesus exercises here repeats itself again and again in the song of the Gospel. Like a chorus that croons: I see you and am moved to you in compassion – am moved to you through my very body. From the words Christ speaks to the woman who anointed him with ointment later in this chapter – Your faith has saved you; go in peace – to the way Jesus saw the man filled with demons and drove the legion out of him to the way Christ noticed the touch of a woman in a crowd pressing in on him, stopped and spoke to her. Christ’s movement towards others extends to when he gathers his disciples – even the one who would betray him – gathers them at the table, breaks the bread and pours the cup. Jesus moves towards another even at the moment before his death, when he forgives the thief who hangs with him. When Christ rose he met his confused followers on the road and compassionately opened up Scripture for them that they might be comforted. Body given again and again. Moving from his very being towards the other.
Compassion – as we know it in Christ – is a life of action. And it is an action that we indeed know in perfect measure through Christ but is also the inheritance of the faith he left for us – to live a life of compassion towards one another. To be moved when we see another’s pain, when we hear of another’s suffering, to move with every fiber of our being, from our inside out to one another.
This is the life of the church, is it not? The meetings and the committees and the buildings and the strategic plans and the polity and the process – all of this is important, certainly. It helps us run. But it isn’t the point of it all. The church is a place where compassion is taught, is shared, and is sent back out into the world. Christ came not so that we would be knee-deep in the ceaseless worries of the world but that we would find salvation and offer salvation through him – offer compassion to one another in the midst of whatever may come. This is the Good News of the Gospel. This is what we claim and proclaim.
Many years ago, two men named Kevin met in a perilous situation. Kevin Berthia had fallen into a depression as dark as night. His daughter was born prematurely and medical costs were nearly a quarter million dollars. He couldn’t see a way out and decided to take his own life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Retired Patrol Officer Kevin Briggs saw him and moved towards this sorrowful man out of a place deep in his soul. He came and stood near, looking at Kevin and seeing him in all his pain. Kevin Berthia – the man on the brink – said this to Kevin, the officer: “I was just mad at myself for being in that situation and I was embarrassed. But somehow the compassion in your voice is what allowed me to kinda let my guard down enough for us to have a conversation. We talked for 92 minutes about everything that I was dealing with. My daughter, her first birthday was the next month. And you made me see that if nothing else, I need to live for her.”
Salvation can come in many forms, can’t it? Might you hear the call from Christ to be moved with compassion towards one other. Might you see, might you move, might you offer the Good News of our Savior. All praise be to God. Amen.