The Compassion of Jesus

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her.

In our gospel reading this morning we hear a story about a widow whose only son has died. And Jesus seeing her and having compassion on her raises him up. The compassion of Jesus is the force that moves this story and it can become the force that moves the story of your life as well.

That’s what Jesus wants us to know this morning. He looks at the world with compassion. He looks at you with compassion. And when you are rooted and grounded in his compassion then you too are raised up to new life. And you too can begin to see yourself, and the world, and others, in a new light.

Just before this story is another familiar story and scholars believe that Luke paired these two stories together for a reason. The one that comes before is the story of the Roman centurion whose servant is very ill and close to death. Do you remember that one? And so he sends a delegation to Jesus and pleads for him to come and heal the man. And Jesus does. Of course. Because whenever we cry out to the Lord he hears us and is there.

But this story is a little different. It involves a healing, even a resurrection of sorts, but not one that was requested. In the first story the healing comes about by invitation, but here he draws near without being invited. No one sent for him. He came of his own accord. And Luke tells us that the Lord saw the widow and had compassion for her.

He saw her. Everything begins with that look. And he sees you too. C and A, as you bring your daughters to the sacrament of holy baptism this morning, the Lord sees you. E and N as you are brought to the font this morning by your parents, and by your godparents, and by this little community gathered under an apple tree, the Lord sees you. And each one of you that is here this morning or watching online, I don’t know what sort of morning, or week, or month, or year you’ve had but the Lord sees you. His gaze is turned towards you.

How does the Lord see her? How does he see us? How does he see the world? With compassion. What is our disposition when we look upon the pain and sorrow of the world? Is it compassion? Maybe not. A colleague of mine says that compassion has been killed in us. And what has taken its place? Frustration, rage, cynicism, despair, apathy. We look upon a world that we cannot control or comprehend and we look away. But not the Lord. He looks and he looks with compassion. That is his disposition to the world and to us.

Compassion is a strong word. It means to suffer with. When Jesus looks at this widow with compassion it means that he takes her grief into himself. Saint Ephrem said that Christ “became like a sponge for her tears.” And not her tears only but our tears and the tears of the whole world. With his compassionate gaze Christ absorbs all of the sin and death, all of the sadness and pain in the world and he takes it into himself where healing and salvation, hope and resurrection live. And sure enough the woman receives her son back. His look changes everything.

This morning something wonderful is going to happen. As C and A bring their daughters to the sacrament of holy baptism they are, in reality, placing them in the compassionate heart of the Lord. And he will take them, free them from the power of sin and death, pour his Spirit into their hearts, raise them up to new life, and then give them back to their mother and father rooted and grounded in his love, a love that surpasses all knowledge. Oh how broad and how long, how high and how deep is the love of Christ!

And we who witness these things this morning are being reminded that Christ looks upon us with compassion as well and that his compassion can increasingly become a force in our own lives. And we need to be reminded of this because it is not difficult to forget that Christ’s love has changed us, that our life has been given a new meaning, a new orientation because of him.

Perhaps this morning he might help us to look again at the world and at one another with the eyes of compassion not just cynicism and anger, with hearts full of a patient hope not just crippling despair. Perhaps there is something in this story that speaks to the grief and pain in our world today. “God has looked favourably on his people,” indeed. +

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