When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” — Matthew 14:13-16, NIV
“Compassion—Compassion is the foundation of the Lutheran Services Carolinas (LSC) ministry. To be compassionate is to see the need or hurt in another and act to change it. LSC employees work in a compassionate manner to improve the lives of all they serve.”
This core value of LSC is the basis of everything we do. If we do not have compassion, we are not living out our calling as people of God and humanity in general. The human condition is based on our nature as relational beings.
Being compassionate is the most loving act humans can bestow on another. But being compassionate can be a double-edged sword. We desire to express our compassion in all we do: we want to help our neighbors live the best, most “abundant life” possible. Our desire to love our neighbor drives us to do our best to help them be free from pain, distress, anxiety, and loneliness.
However, in our desire to be compassionate, we can, sometimes, miss the larger picture that being compassionate offers. When Jesus has compassion on the crowds, he heals them of their sickness, then feeds them (Matt. 14). But this same Jesus is the one who rebukes the crowds for their misunderstanding of what it means to be children of the kingdom (Matt. 6). In Jesus’ messages, compassion has more than one face: sometimes healing and gentle, sometimes stern and chastising.
In this time of extreme anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic and all the things that it brings, our compassionate hearts desire to do that which will remove pain and discomfort from those whom God has called us to serve.
We want to make our neighbors feel better about families not being allowed to visit, about activities being curtailed, about their lives (and our lives, for that matter) being turned upside down. We want to do everything we can to return things to “normal” as quickly as possible, for their sake.
But the larger picture of compassion in this time needs to mimic the stern, realistic compassion of Jesus. We need to resist the emotional “compassion” that would have us open the doors and allow everyone to come in, like before, to visit, hug, hold hands, and be present physically. In the long run, this is not compassion, but folly because we all know the result of that kind of action right now.
True compassion is “to see the need or hurt in another and act to change it.” Our actions in this time need to be based on the seen need of our neighbors’ health and safety, as well as their emotional needs. We who are able to be with our neighbors out of necessity must be the ones to meet the emotional needs as best we can (through FaceTime, Skype, or any other means at our disposal) while being mindful of the dangers of large group gatherings—especially from outside groups—and to keep safe distance through technology, and individual care.
I pray that each one of us can take the courage offered through God’s spirit to impart that realistic compassion shown by Jesus, who healed the sick and held the crowds to the highest standard of love, for the sake of the world.
Pastor Paul Myers, chaplain at Trinity Ridge and Trinity Village