Sunday, August 07, 2011
Trinity 7 2011 Sermon Notes
“I have compassion on the multitude”+ [From the Gospel, Mark 8:1ff]
We are told repeatedly in the Gospels of the compassion of Jesus. Another beautiful verse is Matthew 9:36: “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, as sheep without a shepherd.”
There are three aspects of this statement I wish to emphasise and explore. First, what is the precise nature of this compassion? Second, to whom exactly is it directed? Third, what goal is it directed towards, what action does it inspire, based on what pitiable situation?
The word which we translate compassion is the Greek σπλαγχνιζομαι (splangkh-nid'-zom-ahee). It is derived from the word for the abdominal innards of a person or animal, including the heart, lungs, liver, intestines. The Latin equivalent is the viscera, from which we get “visceral”, implying strong, deep-seated emotion. Perhaps the best colloquial English translation of this root word is “guts”. So, this compassion is from the heart, felt within, and very human. Yet it is a compassion that leads to a miracle, showing that Christ's Divine nature is fully involved.
In other words, it is a compassion both transcendent and earthy, mysterious and familiar. This is important to note, because some see or present Jesus as so “different”, that his emotional life, his human sentiment become unimaginable, implausible, remote. But this is not the true Jesus. Others, on the other hand can accept a sentimental, wise, or down-to-earth Jesus, but cannot allow his holiness, Divinity and uniqueness any reality. He becomes just another sympathetic voice, a “safe” non-Saviour, a “warm fuzzy” without the authority to make ultimate demands. This is not the true Jesus either. Our Lord, fully Divine and fully Human, expresses the Father's heart both in his Almighty power and will, and in his heartfelt, “gut-wrenching” sympathy.
Who are the objects of this compassion? The “multitudes”: or as the Greek word οχλον (okh'lon) can also mean, the crowds, the mob, the hoi polloi. The word easily slides into negative connotations in the Greek, and is opposed to the demos, the people as a civilised, constitutional unit. [When Paul (in Acts 17) is the target of a conspiracy to raise a riot against him in Thessalonica, this action is called οχλοποιεήσαντς (from οχλοποιεo okh-lop-oy-eh'-o): making a mob.] Our Lord feels compassion, feels pity for the crowds as a whole, the common-folk, including the lost sheep and those in special need. His heart is not restrained, his mercy not restricted to a special class of people. Despite his hard words and challenging teachings, we should not doubt either the depth or universal breadth of his love.
Finally, what motivates Christ's compassion and thus what does his compassion aim to fix? The answer is that Jesus sees both the spiritual and physical needs of the people, and is moved by both. Today's passage sees him concerned that the crowds might not make it home without fainting on the way because of lack of food. But in the verse from St Matthew's Gospel that I quoted earlier, Jesus feels sorry for the “harassed and helpless” spiritual state of the multitudes. So, he provides for both body and soul. He does care about our everyday needs, and takes no pleasure in our suffering.
Let us rejoice in the compassion of our Saviour, and imitate its humane practicality and unconstrained reach. +