St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

His Name is Compassion

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35)

The two blind men said to him, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”  Whether from desperation or from the well-spring of faith and deep understanding, they call him “Son of David,” in other words, Messiah.  And they pray for mercy for the healing of their eyes. Still, mercy is like a virus. Once applied and implanted it spreads into the whole person, infecting all of life.

Mercy is a not just a word, it is a name and a Person.  It is closely aligned and inseparable from another word which is also a name and a person  –  that word is Compassion.  It is a name that God gives himself.  Let’s read from Exodus 34. In this section Moses has just thrown down and shattered the tablets of the Ten Commandments in anger at his people’s idolatry.  Now he recreates them.

[4] So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. [5] The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. [6] Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth…”

It is interesting to me that God reveals himself as Compassion at the same time as he blesses the recreation of the tablets of the Law. And then he reveals something greater than the Law. He reveals Himself, “the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness…”

The Law was never meant to be an end in itself, but a guard against self-destructive anarchy. The Law points to something greater than itself; to the Creator of the Law. The law came through Moses and Grace and Truth came through Jesus. So, the Law points to Jesus and to grace and truth.

Now, of course, the Pharisees were unhappy with Jesus as usual. Where is their heart? “The ugliest thing I have ever seen,” wrote an anonymous commentator, “is a human being without compassion.” Francis Schaeffer put it this way, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” How true! For the Pharisees the Law had become a means of support for their positions of power

Jesus did not seem to care about such things as reputation and power.  He cared about people and regularly bent or broke the law in order to fulfill a far greater purpose. “The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath,” he proclaimed. “I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion,” writes Mother Teresa, “than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.”

So, the Church says to those who are mired in a single-minded devotion to legalism at the expense of human suffering, we counter with the life of Jesus which clearly shows that “Love knows when to break the law.” And we proclaim the message along with the divine Isaac of Syria who writes, “Put the lover of legality to shame by your compassion. Be gentle rather than zealous.” 

That is why Christians are known by one thing and one thing only: by the love they have and the love they share. Where love is missing, the Spirit of God is missing. Where love is missing be sure that the Gospel has been misunderstood and adulterated. 

A man by the name of Sam Davidson after years of being a legalistic Christian began to think for himself (always a dangerous thing!). He read the New Testament for himself with new eyes and an open heart. There he discovered the Compassionate heart of God in the life of Jesus and he penned a letter to his former co-religionists on behalf of himself and his new friends. He wrote,

“We found out that the God-man laid down his life nonviolently for the sake of others and commanded his followers to do the same. And we thought, ‘Hey, maybe he meant that’ So we try to structure our lives…accordingly. We became social workers. We went to seminary. We work for non-profits. Those of us who make a lot of money give away unreasonable amounts. We live and work in neighborhoods that make you nervous. We put ourselves in harm’s way and it doesn’t make any sense to you.”

No, it doesn’t make sense, not in the common perspective ruled by fear and selfishness. Then again the Cross doesn’t make any sense either. Do many not prefer self-aggrandizement over Compassion?  Yes, many do, and they, like the Pharisees, cannot imagine a life of humility for themselves and they use the Law as a means of codifying not God’s perspective, but their own. But Jesus chose the path of Love and service and he invites us to follow him by choosing the same path. Yes, even in this dangerous and uncertain world security is not the primary concern. Love is.

Let me end with this beautiful quote from the Protestant pastor Max Lucado, “I choose kindness. I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.”