Jesus Extends His Compassion
In Matthew, chapter 4(:23), we read that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” That came shortly after His Baptism as He began His public ministry. Now, in tonight’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus tell His twelve apostles to do the very same things. As He sends them out to preach to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He tells them, “Proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” In other words, Jesus sends His apostles out to carry on His own work. In fact, Jesus extends His very own work when He sends them out. Jesus extends His compassion through those whom He sends to preach the life-giving, soul-healing Gospel.
But let’s back up for just a moment. Earlier in our reading, Jesus saw the crowds coming to Him. When He saw this mass of people approaching, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Sounds a bit like us, don’t you think? We too are harassed and helpless. We can think of the recent rains and the flooding that now vexes our part of the country. Talk about helpless! We can think of all kinds of harassment from kids teasing kids in school to the dreaded “sexual harassment” that makes news headlines to the mockery we Christians face for simply believing in and confessing Jesus Christ, let alone funny looks we may get for passing up evening activities to come to Divine Service. Yes, we too are harassed.
But we are harassed and helpless in a more profound way. We are harassed and helpless in the face of our sin, in the face of our own mortality, and by the devil himself, who puts so many doubts and unsavory thoughts in our heads and hearts. We know that we do not love God as we should. In fact, during these summer months we probably give Him as little time and thought as possible. After all, we’re so busy with yard work, or recreation fun, or traveling on vacation. And what can we say about loving our neighbor? How easy it is to neglect our neighbor in need or get upset if our neighbor gets on our nerves. Yes, our sins harass us and make us helpless.
So we really need this Shepherd, Jesus the Christ, who has compassion on us, the crowds who flock to Him. When the Bible talks about compassion, it’s a very visual word. “Compassion” means to open one’s inner parts for someone else. We can even say that Jesus shows compassion for us who are harassed and helpless by “spilling His guts” for us. No, not “spilling His guts” in the way of telling someone else of all His troubles. Rather, Jesus “spills His guts” by showing the eternal and boundless love of God the Father. He shows this compassion by healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons, and proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, bursting forth into our harassed and helpless world.
And just how did our Lord Jesus show His great compassion? First by becoming one of us in His Incarnation, then by helping and healing people, by showing mercy and forgiveness, ultimately by suffering at the hands of humans harassed and helpless in their sinful pride and dying on the cross, and, finally, by rising victorious from the grave to show that death is defeated, sins are forgiven, and we have healing and life in Him. As He said, just before He went to the cross: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn. 15:13). Now that’s compassion!
And yet, dear friends, that compassion did not end there, at Jesus’ death and resurrection. No, Jesus extends His compassion by sending out His Apostles to serve and minister just as He did. Tonight we hear the list of those Twelve whom Jesus first sent out: Simon, called Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the rest. They too would go out to proclaim that God’s kingdom of compassion and mercy and forgiveness had come in Jesus. They too would go out to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out the demons. The solid rock of Jesus’ compassion would splash in the pond of this world, and it would ripple outward through these Apostles and those who follow in their office.
Yes, the Church continues the ministry of compassion that Jesus gave. In all of her work, especially through her ministers, Jesus still extends His compassion—for you, for me, for everyone who comes into her ranks. In the Church we hear and taste and see that “we [are] reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” We learn to believe that “now that we are reconciled, [we shall] be saved by His life.” You see, our compassionate Lord still lives out His compassion through His Church. And, as St. Paul also says in our second reading, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Now as your pastor I may not be able to give physical healing to the sick or raise the dead. But I can give you the greater healing for the soul. I can give you the life of Jesus’ compassion, shown on the cross and delivered in the Eucharist. And that healing and life give such great comfort in the face of all things harassing and helpless in the world. Even as we endure things such as flooding rivers or scornful responses for confessing Christ, we still have His compassion, even now, to sustain and strengthen us.
So, just as Jesus sent out His Twelve Apostles to extend His compassion, He still sends Christians out to extend it in our day. Amen.