16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Some years ago, in the parish I was formerly assigned, we had a visitor, a German, who expressed his desire to visit the depressed areas of our parish. So, I brought him to the places he wanted to see. And we went around practically the whole day.
Coming back to our parish rectory, I asked our visitor how he felt visiting the places of the poorest of the poor. At first, he was somehow embarrassed to share how he felt; but after hearing my own struggle, he started sharing. According to him, he could feel how his stomach was reacting – he almost threw up – not because of the foul odor and filth, but because of the strong feeling of pity that was evoked from him upon seeing the miserable situation of the people we visited. He said, “When I saw those people living in extreme poverty, I felt a violent movement welling up from my stomach.”
That experience makes me understand today’s gospel passage better. We are told that when Jesus saw the vast crowd he was moved with pity – he was moved with compassion. The Greek term for compassion has its root in the word splagchnon, which means intestines, bowels, entrails, or heart. It refers to the the inward parts from which strong emotions arise. It means a movement or impulse that wells up from one’s very entrails.
We can paraphrase today’s gospel passage in a graphic way – using the meaning of splagchnon – in these words: “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his very entrails moved violently, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Nagkabuhul-buhol ang kanyang mga lamang-loob.” This is similar to our Tagalog expression: “Bumaligtad ang sikmura.” This is also what that German was referring to when he said, “I felt a violent movement welling up from my stomach.”
According to one gospel commentary, The Interpreter’s Bible, “Compassion is the pain of love.” Everything Jesus did was rooted in this pain of love. He brought the Good News to the poor, the hungry, and the rejected; he chose to be in solidarity with the least, the lost, and the last; he showed mercy for the wounded, the weak and the sinner; he taught the people who were like sheep without a shepherd. All this he did because he was moved with compassion. All had their root in the pain of love.
Compassion is sorrow for the pain and suffering of another, with the urge to help. It is important to take note that, in the Gospels, every time Jesus is moved with compassion he does not stay on that level of emotion. Rather, he always does something for the one afflicted. His compassion is always a response to pain and suffering. Jesus cures the sick, he feeds the hungry, he cleanses the lepers, he comforts the grieving, he raises the dead. Why? Because he is moved with compassion. He has that pain of love in his heart.
It is not enough, and it is not even Christian, if our compassion is just but a feeling. I may shed tears of pity for those who are like sheep without a shepherd, but if I have not been able to lift a finger to bring healing, or to bind the wounds of the broken and the devastated, or to fill the hunger and satisfy the thirst of my brethren, or to lighten the burden of the poor and the suffering, I have not really proclaimed the good news of Jesus – I have not brought Jesus and his love to these people – and my tears and emotions are worth nothing. Like Jesus, compassion should move me to do something. I ought not to fail in manifesting God’s compassion to my neighbor who is in misery and poverty.
So, let us pray that we may have compassion – to have the pain of love in our hearts. Henri Nouwen tells us, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain.” “Entering into places of pain” does not mean barging in with easy answers and quick solutions. It means reaching out without taking over… holding without withholding… giving without looking to receive.
Let us end with a prayer: Lord Jesus, make us channels of Your compassion… to suffer with those who suffer, to weep with those in tears, to be vulnerable with the vulnerable. Lord, make us experience the pain of love, and let this move us to do something to alleviate or ease the pain of the sick, the weak, and the poor. Lord, help us to realize that the purpose of life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others. Amen.