When we hear of hardship, suffering, prejudice, abuse, starvation, injustice, illness, bullying, trauma, crisis, or impending death—empathy wells up in us. And it should. In fact, we would be inhuman if we didn’t feel something for those who suffer; and grossly unfeeling and thoughtless if we rejoiced in another’s hurt.
Empathy for the hurting wells up in us either because we’ve had similar situation, or because we can imagine what it would be like to endure these horrid circumstances.
But when the suffering hits close to home, when it’s a sibling or parent or close friend, then our empathy moves from sadness for them to hurting with them; from identifying with their pain to suffering with them. Suffering in the depths of our soul the suffering our loved ones suffer. And that’s what brings out true compassion. Not the compassion that is concern or uneasiness, but the compassion that heartfelt, bone-deep grief.
Both kinds of compassion are necessary and good. The compassion for the wrongs a group endures, as well as the compassion for a particular person I’m close to.
Both kinds of compassion are necessary if we are to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
But the compassion where I truly know what you’re going through; because I’ve been there; because you’re so close to me—that’s the compassion Our Lord Jesus feels.
So when we hear, as we do today, that Our Lord was moved with compassion—it’s not that He is pained by life’s hardships or wrongs done to groups. It’s that He is hurting with each hurting person. That He actually suffers our own unique suffering with us and for us.
So Our Lord feels for a group, for all humanity, not when He sees the plight of anonymous persons; not when He hears of someone He’s never known. Rather, Our Lord immerses Himself in the suffering of all when He looks into the eyes of the hurting person who is right in front of Him. When Jesus sees the person He’s sitting with, standing near, talking to, reaching out to—then He sees every one of us.
So the Lord sees the widow who is in a daze, trudging off to bury her son. Most certainly, a heart-rending scene for anyone who feels anything. And our Lord can certainly feel that general compassion—that compassion borne of empathy and understanding—because in the woman’s face, in her tearful eyes, He can see His own holy Mother who will soon, very soon, be walking that same path as a widow while her only son, dead, is carried to His tomb.
But the Lord’s compassion sees more than this scene. The Lord’s compassion is more than a reminder, more than a looking ahead. The tears flow, not for what will be but because of what He now sees.
And what Our Lord sees in the widow is every personal tragedy, every heart-rending moment, every fear and ruined future—all brought about by the disaster that occurs when one of us, and many of us together, tread the path of the first mother. When we, willfully and deliberately, prefer what we want. When we, in our weakness, give in to the belief and the certainty, that we know God better than God; that we know truth better than Truth Himself; that we know how to make life work better than the one who gave His life so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.
So what Our Lord sees in the widow is the heart-breaking futility of living as if this life matters, and as if we matter most.
What Our Lord doesn’t do makes all the difference. What He doesn’t do is walk away. What He doesn’t do is make some snide remark about how we’ve ruined our life. And what Our Lord Jesus doesn’t do is throw up His hands and say, “You people aren’t worth it.”
For Our Lord is run by compassion. All about compassion. All about getting down in the pit with us, sitting with us, and then lifting us up out of the miserable mess we’ve made.
And so, what Our Lord does is approach the woman. And He says, “Let’s not weep.” And what He does it touch the coffin. And He says, “It’s now time to rise from the dead. It’s now time to come back from the grave. It’s now time to taste and see what life is really all about.”
Life is really all about Our Lord. No matter what’s going on around us. No matter all the things we can’t control. No matter how much things are falling apart. And no matter who sides with whom.
Life is really all about Our Lord. Holding fast to what He says, even when we can’t see a way out. Returning again and again to His Body and Blood, even when everything else tastes like ash in our mouths. And looking into His loving, co-suffering eyes, knowing that He’s always got us and He always gets us through—if we only use the courage and desire, the Spirit He’s given us, to follow the way of life that He is and that He leads us in.
Those words, “I say to you, arise”—they’re not just spoken to a dead man once upon a time in the city of Nain. They were spoken into you, breathed into you, implanted in the depth of your being, when you were baptized, and later chrismated, and then fed God’s Body and Blood.
Those words, “I say to you, arise”—they’re said to raise you up when you no longer feel, when you’ve lost your way, when compassion is hard, when you’re ready to give up. For these are the words the spiritual father speaks when he re-states God’s absolution in the healing Sacrament of Private Confession.
And those word, “I say to you, arise”—that is to be your daily motto. For those words proclaim that the Lord has pulled you up, and will also raise you up on the last day. For you have tasted the Lord’s goodness encased in His holy Body and Blood.
Now when you know that you arise and will arise; when those words become a statement of who you are—a raised, resuscitated, resurrected child of God just as the Son of God was raised—then you are empowered to reach out to others. For you have no fear of falling; you know you’ve been raised; and you know you won’t be left down. So then, with Christ giving you life, you will not be weary in doing good; in helping and reaching out with true deep-seated compassion to those who are downtrodden and ignored and mistreated.
By the prayers of the holy Martyr Eustace and his companions, whose resurrection was revealed in their suffering, may Our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us and save us.
A homily for XV Pentecost
20 September 2020