It Takes Guts
Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.”
He called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to throw them out and to heal every disease and every sickness. Here are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, who is called Peter; and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee; and John his brother; Philip; and Bartholomew; Thomas; and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean; and Judas, who betrayed Jesus.
Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, “Don’t go among the Gentiles or into a Samaritan city. Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel. As you go, make this announcement: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons. You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment. (Matthew 9:35-10:8)
He had compassion. When Jesus saw the crowds, “He had compassion.”
We often call the passage we just read, the sending or the commissioning of the twelve. We focus on the going and the doing. But more important than what Jesus tells the disciples to go and do is why Jesus tells them to go do it. Too often we skip over this and focus on the “Go, proclaim the good news” part of this passage. We jump to the great commission passage in Matthew 28 without paying attention to the context set for that commissioning right here in Matthew Chapter 9.
Jesus had compassion.
Compassion from Greek splagchnizomia -“to have pity, feel sympathy”, implies a deep gut emotion, literally “to be moved as to one’s bowels”; in noun form it can mean Love and affection
It’s the word used for the feeling of the Father in the story of the prodigal son when he sees his son come home and welcomes him back. It’s the feeling the Good Samaritan had for the beaten and robbed traveler. Its’s the feeling Jesus had when he saw the Widow at Nain’s dead son and brought him back to life. It’s the feeling Jesus has for the hungry crowds who had been listening to him preach for 3 days when he miraculously feeds them with seven loaves and a few fish.
Compassion: It is a word that describes a deep, heartfelt emotion that goes all the way down to your guts that moves you to do something kind and merciful.
Jesus tells his disciples to go and proclaim good news. And the clear context for going and proclaiming is compassion. Jesus had compassion and so he sends his disciples out to heal, cleanse and encourage people. And he is very specific to tell the disciples: You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment.
In other words, have compassion for the people around you as you go out. Someone showed you compassion, show it to others.
But it is interesting that Jesus doesn’t specify who showed the disciples compassion. He does not say: I showed you compassion so show it to others. Nor does he say God did or anyone specific.
I think Jesus is implying that the disciples received compassion from several places. Yes, From Jesus himself. Yes from God. Yes from one another. But here’s the kicker: they received compassion from themselves as well.
We don’t always think about showing ourselves compassion. But we must first show ourselves compassion if we are to be compassionate towards others. Otherwise, the compassion we show very likely has more to do with something selfish within us than it does the free benefit of someone else.
Let me explain:
I lived in an intentional community for a decade. Folks would look at us and shower us with praise for the compassion we showed to others….the poor, the imprisoned, the disabled, the neglected children, the fixed income elderly…this list could go on and on. We strove to be compassionate people just as Jesus was compassionate.
But I can affirm to you I certainly had a great deal of what we call compassion fatigue. That is, I often felt the needs were so overwhelming and I was so constantly giving myself, that I just had nothing left to give. Yet our community expected me to keep giving. Like a gas pump continuing to pump gas when the reservoir is bone dry. It just doesn’t work and eventually the pump itself breaks.
For a long time I thought Joanie and I were the only ones. Deep inside – and I may be admitting this for the first time – I though maybe something was wrong with me.
Our community began to struggle, in my opinion, because of compassion fatigue. We would treat everyone around us with compassion, but we would not be compassionate towards one another. The resvervoir was just too bone dry. And I struggled to understand why folks in the community could be kind to our neighbors but not to one another.
A year or so into some counseling and coaching, I discovered the answer. You see, I heard for the first time someone in the community say out loud: I have to be nice, kind and compassionate to our neighbors because otherwise I am not good enough, worthy enough for God.
Not good enough for God.
There was the answer. It wasn’t compassion at all. It was trying to earn something from God that this person wanted… forgiveness, a reward, a gold star, heaven. Salvation had become something that this person felt she had to justify, something to be earned, given as a reward for good deeds.
Jesus says to give because you have already received. Not give because you have to earn.
And I realized, the so-called compassionate acts of our community were not compassion at all. They were really selfish. Efforts to be good enough. Goals set to be seen as worthy. Acts done to be seen as good and saintly by God and others. Our work was not compassionate. It was more about a reward than it was our neighbors.
And this is not the way of Jesus. Jesus acts because of the deep, gut-wrenching love for others. Not to get something for himself.
As I have analyzed my time in intentional community over the past few years, I have come to this realization: we cannot have true, authentic compassion for others until we first have it for ourselves.
We cannot love others until we love ourselves. We cannot act with grace towards anyone until we can see, give and know grace for our self. (But if we have love, grace and compassion for our self, them we are able to do for another person without an underlying self oriented motivation.)
However, giving our self compassion can be one of the hardest things to do in a society that is so focused on rewards and punishments such as ours. Now I’d love to spend some time examining just why our society is like this. But instead, I’d like to simply illustrate this struggle through a story I came across this week from a blogger named Lea Shinraku. Listen to her speak about the struggle to show herself compassion and consider how you might relate to this struggle in your own life.
When I was in graduate school, I was driving home from school one evening when I noticed that my car was overheating. Just as I arrived in front of my building, the engine stalled completely.
It was 5pm on a Friday, I was blocking the bike lane, and traffic was backed up behind me. Two cars sped past beeping their horns, and then a cyclist turned and waved his fist as he rode around me. I flipped on my hazard lights.
As I dialed Triple A, the self-critical thoughts and stories started to spin:
“Why didn’t I notice earlier that the car was overheating? I should have had it serviced. If I had been more on top of things, this wouldn’t be happening.”
I heard more car horns beeping as the woman at Triple A promised that a tow truck would be there within 30 minutes. After I thanked her and hung up, the self-critical stories resumed:
“I’m in the way; inconveniencing everyone around me. I’m taking up too much space.”
I was startled by a knock at the passenger window. A guy with a goatee and a beanie stood next to my car, and I suspected that he was going to give me a hard time for being double-parked. Reluctantly, I lowered the window.
“Hey,” he said. “I work at the cafe right here—do you want a latte or a chai or something?”
I stared at him, speechless, blinking through the beginnings of tears.
“We’ve also got hot chocolate and tea,” he said.
He actually meant it.
“Oh,” I said. “Wow. Thank you. I’d love some chamomile tea.”
“You got it,” he said and headed back to the cafe.
I sat there, stunned. This experience did not fit into the story my inner critic had been telling. All of my self-criticism had been completely silenced by this stranger’s spontaneous impulse of kindness.
Suddenly none of this was my fault; it was just something that was happening, and I could allow it. All the stories had been just that: stories.
A few moments later he reappeared with the chamomile tea and handed it to me.
“Here you go,” he said.
“Thanks.” I pulled a couple of bills from my wallet.
“Oh, no, don’t worry about it,” he said.
“Yeah,” he said.
I looked at him and took the tea.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Hey, I’ve been there.”
He tapped the passenger door twice as a goodbye. I put the window back up. The tea was too hot to drink, so I held the paper cup as it warmed my hands.
I let it register some more: This wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t evidence of me having done something wrong. It was just something that was happening, and it could just be that.
I thought about how the self-critical stories had flared up as soon as I found myself in a challenging situation, how automatic it was for me to think that the coffee shop guy was there to criticize me, and how immediately the trance of self-judgment was broken by his act of kindness.
In five minutes, he had given me a life-altering lesson in how compassion alchemizes criticism. He had no ulterior motive: he was simply being kind and generous, and he inspired me to be more kind and generous with myself.
We all need this kind of compassion for our self. Self-Compassion is about being kind to yourself, encouraging yourself, not beating yourself up, nut instead giving yourself the kindness that you need. Self-compassion is about receiving the calm and comfort that God is offering you right now. Self-compassion is about understanding yourself, being comfortable with who you are, acting like you are a friend to yourself, and knowing without a doubt that you are good enough, worthy enough…that you are enough. Self compassion is about supporting your inner and outer needs, refilling your gas tank so that you have something to freely give others.
Jesus had compassion for the crowds. You are within that crowd. Will you have for yourself the same compassion Jesus has for you? Will you show yourself the same compassion Jesus showed for you on the cross?
If so, then perhaps you will find yourself filled with the grace needed to show others that compassion as well.