I was at the customer service desk returning a pair of pants that were too tight. The clerk asked, “Is there something wrong with them?” “Yes,” I said, “They hurt my feelings.” Sometimes we’re compassionate, but other times not so much. We struggle with things in our lives. We may not be as happy as we want to be. We may have an addiction or an obsession that challenges us a lot. We want to change something about ourselves that we have such a hard time with. We want to be a better friend, or partner, or person, but keep getting tripped on personality flaws, bad habits, or wrong choices. You’ve asked God to help you but still don’t seem to see any results. Be careful about how you see things. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion….” This includes compassion toward ourselves. Be compassionate toward yourself. Don’t remain blind to what God has been doing. Keep your eyes open to seeing how you’re growing. We need to be aware of our victories. Take pride in what you’re doing better than you did before. Be joyful when you see that you’ve taken a little step forward. Recognize when you get what you prayed for. Your prayers haven’t been in vain. Your need hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Lord has heard your cry and seen you’ve been unable to see how to move forward without the Lord’s help. And help has come. You are moving forward, perhaps very slowly, but have patience and persevere. You are surely receiving God’s blessings. The truth is we don’t have the easiest time being compassionate toward ourselves. We judge and convict and condemn. We shame and guilt ourselves so easily. This is not what the Lord needs from you. Let Christ’s grace free you from your lack of compassion toward yourself. Build on what’s good and what God is doing. Of course the truth is when we’re hard on ourselves it also means we have a hard time figuring out how to be compassionate toward others. Some however seem to have compassion for others in them naturally. I want to show you a video of Connor and Cayden Long. Compassion toward anyone, even one’s own sibling, is still amazing and powerful. Connor is truly amazing.
In our scripture, Jesus is leaving Jericho, which means his next stop just a couple of miles down the road is Jerusalem. He believes 100% he will not survive his visit there. He will die there. Still he’s going. And then Matthew makes us stop. Outside Jericho, two blind men are sitting by the roadside. When they hears Jesus is walking by, they begin to shout, “Lord, have mercy on us.” But it’s not like they’re the only ones blind around there. The truth is blindness is a fact of life in Jesus’ day and age. Poverty, lack of medical care, unsanitary conditions, brilliant sunlight, blowing sand, certain kinds of accidents, war, fighting, all of these things caused blindness. In Jericho, it was especially not uncommon to be blind, since a certain bush was believed to be able to heal blindness. So Jesus had seen this all before; many times before in fact. And you can easily imagine that Jesus may have been preoccupied, for example with his disciples, since when he was gone they would be the ones left to carry on his mission and ministry. He certainly may have been distracted by thoughts of what would happen to him in the very near future. Surely he had seen crucified men and what they looked like and what they suffered. How is it possible that Jesus stopped? Compassion, that’s how. Because of Jesus’ compassion Matthew has to tell us this story. Christ had time for two completely insignificant and all too common men, blinded and begging. Before we hustle past this, we want to remember that there was nobody else willing to stop. Matthew makes it clear that not only does Jesus stop but he does so while going against the stream of the crowd. If you’ve ever walked in a group before you know what I mean. The motion of dozens of people turns into a flow. This human current moves us along its way. It has a speed and momentum that becomes a barrier to turning around or even just stopping. So physically Jesus had to go against the flow in order to stop himself, and the crowd of people that were carrying him and each other along. That takes physical strength. But to stop in a stream like that also takes moral courage and emotional strength. One has to resist following the herd, be willing to take risks, insist on one’s own purpose, keep to one’s path even when others want to nudge you over to theirs. Christ had this courage and strength.
But above all it takes compassion, the capacity to empathize, sympathize, and pity someone else. And here Jesus seemed to be alone because compassion was something clearly missing in those walking with the Lord. Has this changed much, I wonder. Jesus’ response was to be moved with compassion/pity. Literally, in the Greek, the word is “gut-wrenched.” We might say choked up. But how could this be? I mean he had seen this all before. Why would he get all torn up or choked up about two blind guys? It’s not like he was going to be able to doing anything about blindness per se. He couldn’t stop it from happening to others. He couldn’t keep accidents from happening or wars or dust or bright sunlight or old age from taking away sight. Didn’t he realize this? Why would he get so upset? How did he get so emotional? We don’t, do we? We don’t get gut-wrenched anymore, or choked-up. That’s because we’re more, well, sensible. Unfortunately, the truth is, we like to think, there’s nothing that can really be done about people who just happen to face incredibly tough lives. It’s not like we want it to be this way. Just don’t let it happen to you. In fact however some people turn critical of others who get torn up about others’ suffering. “They take it too far,” we may say. “How can you get so involved when there are so many suffering?” “You can’t get all worked up.” There is no why, no reason, to having compassion for others as long as we hold to the view that there’s too much pain in the world to do anything about it. Once you accept being jaded and hardened, things change, permanently. The real problem however comes in when we realize there’s also no how left in us either. Once we accept notions that refuse the why behind feeling compassion, we may some day realize we no longer know how to feel compassion. We become cut off from our guts, from our capacity to feel pity, from our ability to feel, from getting choked up any more about what others go through. Even when we would like to feel compassion, to feel something deep, we find that pathway is no longer there or it’s blocked. We don’t know how to reach down to our guts to feel strongly. We can’t get choked up any longer. We’ve become bankrupt emotionally, at least when it comes to compassion for others. We’ve let the fire burn out.
Don’t let compassion get extinguished. We want to be more like Jesus than like those who walked shoulder to shoulder with him but told the two blind men to be quiet. Realize how tough it has become to feel, to feel empathy, sympathy and pity. Recognize how little connection you have inside of yourself toward God’s children who are in need. Don’t keep yourself behind pitiless walls. Let yourself be touched and moved. For in this is the hope of feeling God work new life in you, to give you back the strength of your soul, the brightness of your spirit. This is how we know Christ’s salvation is in us. Someone said, “I used to work in Southeast Portland, not too far from a thrift store that I’d go to during my lunch hour—regularly rummaging, as you probably guessed, through their piles of used books. While I was there one day, an old man came shuffling into the store on a pair of crutches—carefully feeling his way along. I recognized him as a blind man who lived in the community. He had a unique way of getting someone to come and help him. He would make his way through the doorway and into the middle of the store; and then, standing in one spot, he’d shout at the top of his voice, “Help! Someone; help! I need help! Please, someone; help me!” He would keep on shouting until someone finally came and helped him. And he never had to wait very long because, as it turned out, several employees would quickly run to him to see what in the world was wrong. Then, he would calmly tell them what it was he was looking for. And as far as I could tell, he received the fastest and best customer service of anyone else in the store!” Good for him! He comes from an ancient line of people willing to proclaim loudly they need some compassion from the rest of us. Try not to judge others when they need something extremely bad and they don’t act up to standards. Realize many are desperate, scared, and in trouble. You have more than you often comprehend. I’ve seen many people come here to church as a last resort for housing for the night or trying to get out of their car they’ve been sleeping in with their children. Not everyone looks or smells or talks how they might if they weren’t in their shoes but in ours, for example. Have compassion beyond judgment. Show mercy.
Of all the unique turn of events in our story, perhaps the biggest one is that Jesus asks what the two blind men want him to do for them. Really? Seriously? Didn’t he already know what they wanted? Wasn’t it obvious? See this all again: Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and in an hour he will arrive in the city where he will meet his death. He’s stopped the stream of the crowd that’s following and swirling around him. He rejects everyone else’s view of the importance of these two souls. Now there’s silence. And then he asks them what they want for him to do for them. Even in that moment, Christ is completely at their disposal. Nothing else and nobody else matters, on earth or in heaven. Everyone will have to wait for these two to tell him their hearts’ desire. If nobody else wanted to hear, Christ still did. If everybody else would assume to know, Christ didn’t assume. If nobody could see the ones who couldn’t see, he made sure he saw them, and heard them, and had compassion for them, and touched them, and healed them. Is he not teaching us? I’m not sure there are only two blind people in this story. Perhaps this story tells us that it’s easier for Christ to heal two people physically blind than it is to heal the many who are spiritually blind. When we shut our ears to someone, we shut our eyes to someone. Open your ears. Feel more; feel compassion. Be moved. Take some time for others and their struggles. And learn what Christ was trying to teach. Can the church say Amen?
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