August 25, 2019
Empathy + Caring = Compassion
1 Kings 17.8-24; 7.11-17
Rev Sandy Larson
A father and significantly handicapped son were walking home from his special ed school, when his son noticed a pick-up game of baseball being played by boys about his age. The son indicated that he very much love to play. So his father approached a boy who seemed to be a peer leader. The player readily comprehended the situation and said, since it was the bottom of the 6th inning and they were behind 3 to 8, he thought the boy would be welcome to play, and he could even bat in the 9th inning. The game started turning in their team’s favor and by the time it was the new boy’s turn to bat, he could lose or win the game for them. The pitcher stepped several steps forward to throw a slow easy pitch, but the boy missed wildly. The boy who had invited him to play stepped forward and gripped the bat with him. The pitcher took a few more steps forward and the two boys hit a low ground ball. The batter was stunned and the rest of his team had to cheer him to first base. The pitcher caught the ball and lobbed it PAST the first baseman and the runner made it to first. His teammates yelled to run to second and the boy looked confused but ran toward second. The first baseman threw the ball OVER the head of the second baseman. Then ALL the players shouted “Run to third!” and then to home. Wild cheers erupted as he made it to home base. – Wayne Dyer
Do you recall the glowing feeling when you have been truly caring or generous? What is your motivation for kindness to others? Were you taught you SHOULD be kind? Are you motivated by hope that kindness will be returned to you? Are you motivated by “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” Are you kind when you identify with a person’s difficulty? Empathy + Caring = compassion. Compassion means to stand with another.
There’s more to compassion than Should’s and warm fuzzies and “If you’re nice to someone, they’ll usually be nice back to you.” Empathy motivates authentic caring.
Why did Jesus heal people? He wanted to identify with people and their humanness and to demonstrate God’s power with us. But not just power. His mission was to demonstrate compassion.
‘Should’s’ dominated the culture of Jesus’ time. Moral codes and religious laws dictated behavior. In contrast, compassion guided Jesus. When Jesus saw a woman suffering from curvature of the spine, he had compassion for her. He even broke the Sabbath law by healing her. When Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well in the noontime sun, he recognized that she was shunned by others. So he reached out to her. He broke cultural laws by befriending this foreign woman. Compassion guided him. Friends of a paralyzed man lowered the paralytic thru the roof of a crowded house and Jesus healed him in response the faith of his friends. Luke tells of a centurion’s faith in Jesus to heal his servant.
We, too, may need to connect or reconnect to the source of hope. In mysterious ways, God’s love inspires compassion.
We would think that comfortably well-off folks would be more generous than people who struggle to make ends meet. Yet poor people and people facing difficulties know from experience that sharing is essential.
For those of us who feel rather secure, our kindness is often patronizing. Jesus was never patronizing. Watch how children relate to adults’ kindness. If the adult patronizes a child, the child intuitively shirks away. Too often, I see degrading patronizing in hospital, care centers and social services help centers. I want to beg the do-gooder to stop patronizing the person they are belittling. All humans want empathy first and then caring compassion. Are there times when you are patronizing rather than empathetic and caring?
Our helpfulness and our caring originated from our receiving God’s love. All people face daunting challenges at one time or another. Our own weaknesses often cause us to deepen our awareness of our dependency on God’s strength and love. Where do we turn if we cannot figure out a solution ourselves? God is our rock and our redeemer. Yet often, our own desire to feel righteous blocks our reliance on God.
Those of us who have more than others tend to put up self-protective barriers that guard us from responding to the needs of others. Tom White was an exception. He was a wealthy Boston building contractor. When Tom White heard about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work to bring medical care and sanitation to the poorest people in Haiti, he told Dr Farmer: “I wanna spend all my money before I die.” Tom White did not want to spend his fortune on self-indulgences. Mr. White repeatedly gave his money to Partners in Health to provide healthcare in Haiti. When Partners in Health expanded to quell tuberculosis and communicable diseases worldwide, Tom White spent nearly all he had to help.
In the time of Elijah, life was hard in Israel, in large part due to a deplorable self-serving king, Ahab. To add to the suffering, Elijah had to prophesy a terrible drought, as the consequence of self-centered and evil behavior. Everyone knew Elijah had predicted the drought, so people turned against him. Elijah got word from the Lord to travel to Zarepheth to find a widow who would feed him.
The poor widow and her son were about to starve. Yet she offered to share her last bit of food with the evicted prophet. Something more than camaraderie of human suffering inspired her.
Despite their own despair, loneliness and hunger, they trusted that God would not abandon them. Trusting in God, Elijah assured the starving woman: “Do not be afraid!” She abandoned her own limitations and embraced God’s grace. And…in the process of helping each other, Elijah the woman regained their own strength.
You and I may be fretting about whatever kind of empty cupboard or lack that makes us feel deprived or hopeless. We may be facing debt, health challenges, loneliness, fear, or any emptiness or lack. We can give in to discouraging circumstances. OR: We can receive and share God’s abundance. God invites us to participate in God’s generous, life-giving abundance and to share that abundance with one another.
Where does hope really come from? The centurion’s servant was healed because the centurion had faith that he could be healed. Yet when a widow who lost son, Jesus was the only person who had faith enough that the dead man could be raised. Jesus seeks to inspire faith, yet he does not need people to take the initiative of faith themselves. Faith opens the way for God to work in our lives. And, sometimes, miracles can lead people to faith. It works both ways.
What about this messed up world today? Can Jesus heal now? For example, more than 40 million widows are homeless in India, because their families and others ignore them. A 70-year-old widow said, “My son tells me: "You have grown old---now who is going to feed you? Go away.’” She cries, “What do I do? My pain has no limit.” Where is her son’s compassion? Does he not recognize that he will likely become weak someday, too?
“Good” people in American often ignore elderly and other needy folks. We turn away from chronically ill, poor people of all kinds and even desperately needy children. We tend to deny that marginalized immigrants are here in Orange County and 1000’s of desperate immigrants who come to the US and European borders.
This lack of caring (this lack of compassion) goes against all that Jesus represents. As far back as the Exodus from Egypt, God told his people that they are responsible for widows and fatherless children. (Ex. 22:22-23)
Yet many caring people become discouraged and suffer from compassion fatigue—similar to burnout. Giving too much and not replenishing causes compassion fatigue. The strongest remedy for compassion fatigue is trust that God is our refuge and our strength. Our help is in the name of the Lord. God will provide. Believe in this promise and you will find strengthen and renewal…and you will probably have compassion for others, too.
In the days of terrible King Ahab, God started bringing renewed hope through the initiative of Elijah and one starving widow. God starts again with you and me.
Think of someone you know whom you tend to judge or criticize.
Envision yourself trying to understand this person’s hurts and frustrations. How can you identify with their pain? Envision the love or healing that person needs. Then, envision a group in society whom you judge negatively. Imagine the struggles or hopes both you and they have in common. Then, respond with compassion—empathy and caring.
May God bless each of us in the wonderful adventure of faith and living a life of compassion.