Compassion and Guts
Thank you all once again and to Mother Stacey for inviting the brothers back to speak and celebrate this Sunday’s services with you online. Here at the friary, we continue to pray for those suffering from the coronavirus, for the over 157,000 who have died; for the countless family members who have lost a husband, wife, brother, sister, or friend; for the millions of people who have lost their job or their savings; for the doctors and nurses caring for the sick; and for all of us who are still at risk to catching the virus. We are not quite through the woods yet. Please keep yourselves safe and do your part to bring an end to this global pandemic.
Before I start today’s sermon, I want to pose to you a couple of questions. I have a feeling though those under a certain age will be more likely to answer it than their elders.
If I were to ask you, “Which prominent politician lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?” Or, “Who lives at Number 10 Downing Street?” would you know the answer? Maybe a few of you do. The President of the United States lives in the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the British Prime Minister lives at Number 10 Downing Street. But if I were to ask you, “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” many of you especially with younger children already know the answer. There can only be one absorbent, yellow, and porous sponge who could be the answer to that question.
Today, Spongebob Squarepants dominates the Nickelodeon TV channel, a channel that the coronavirus quarantine has got me feeling nostalgic for as a late. It’s sad to see my once favorite TV station that use to have a wide variety of programming--from live-action game shows, to teen sitcoms become a station almost entirely devoted to showing reruns of Spongebob. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved Spongebob since it first came out, but I miss some of the old shows I use to watch as a kid.
One of those old game-shows popped into my memory this past week in preparation for today’s sermon. The game show, called GUTS was essentially a kid-friendly version of American Gladiator. Three teens would compete against each other in a series of matches, culminating in a giant rock climb up a fake mountain constructed in Nickelodeon Studios in Universal Studios, Florida. Whoever won would receive a glow-in-the-dark trophy which I used to think was pretty cool when I was a kid.
Now, what relevance does this nearly forgotten, 20-year-old game show have to do with our Gospel?
This morning, we hear how Jesus feeds the five thousand men and women and children who have followed after him. The Gospel writer tells us that, “When [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Matthew 14:14). That phrase, “and he had compassion for them” is what I’d invite us to meditate on today.
The use of the term compassion is an interesting one. Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, the word for compassion means something different than the translated English. Yes, the word is often translated as compassion or pity, but there is something much greater being said here in the Greek than in the English. This word used for compassion has a root with the same meaning as “bowels” or the, shall we say, “guts”. When the Gospel writer tells us Jesus was moved with compassion, it is as if the writer is saying Christ was moved so profoundly at seeing the people that it was like he had been punched in the stomach. Jesus experienced a visceral, gut-wrenching reaction to seeing the people that day.
Our God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, is not an indifferent, impersonal force in the universe, casually observing and taking no interest in the affairs of his creation. Quite the opposite, God is shown today taking such a strong interest in human affairs that, in Jesus, he physically suffered upon seeing the hunger of his people.
Reading the life and ministry of Jesus tells us how closely God truly longs to draw all people to God’s own self. How are we supporting Jesus’ own desire, who in the night before he died, prayed that all may be one? (John 17:21) God does not call us away from each other, but together. How are we seeking reconciliation with our neighbors? With our family members? With our friends? With old foes? How are we helping to draw all people back to God?
Today, it is as if Christ is modeling for us the gravity of compassion we ought to feel when we see our brother or sister in pain, or suffering, or going down a dark trail of misery. Perhaps our prayer ought to be for the grace to experience and act upon that type of compassion Christ felt before feeding the 5,000.
Perhaps this time away from communal celebrations of the Eucharist is also a time to spend in greater moments of contemplation or meditation. Are there people or folks with whom we have yet to be reconciled? Are there things done or left undone which we desire God’s grace and forgiveness? Have we considered seeking out a priest for advice, direction, and possibly absolution?
Today, let us pray that all our hearts might be open to experiencing a deep sense of compassion, of pity, of love for the plights of our brothers and sisters--those who have it worse than us and those who have it better. May we, the Pilgrim Church on earth, work together to build up our common life. May we look for that day when all God’s children will know each other to be beloved brothers and sisters of the one God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord, who, with the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns one God, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost / Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Saint Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church
August 2, 2020
Image attribution: Reid, Patricia. Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, detail, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55893 [retrieved August 3, 2020]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/5125264193.
Brother James Nathaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org