August 3, 2014
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Shera Nesheim, Diaconal Minister
How many of you have ever been HANGRY? You know, like the Snickers commercials?
Do you know what I mean? So hungry that you’re angry?
I think it started around the time I was pregnant with Hannah, and now, if you catch me overly hungry … I may have a case of the hangries. You know that deep hungry feeling, in the pit of your stomach? When your stomach twists and growls with emptiness? When you look in the fridge and there is just nothing to eat? Your tummy is telling you, now, must eat now.
Do you want to know something funny? Please feel free to laugh, because it is strange. But the word “Compassion” in the greek language (which is what our Scripture was originally written in)…”compassion,” this feeling that Jesus feels, it means the “inner parts of the body” or the “bowels” of the digestive tract. Strange right? That something as beautiful as feeling compassion for something is tied to this deep part of who we are? Something strong enough to make us hangry? Compassion is more than just a warm fuzzy feeling that passes us by on a whim like a craving for chocolate. Compassion is something that comes from deep within us. It is a motivation so deep – we get hangry and want to do something about it.
The story we hear today from Matthew is one that is more about the disciples getting hangry and not wanting to share their food. There is ONE little word in this story that points to something that is bigger than the miracle: compassion. Here is Jesus, in his own moments of grief and suffering. He just found out his cousin John the Baptist has died a brutal death. JBap, the one who’s voice prepared the way for him is now a party favor for a King. Not only is Jesus grieving, but I’m sure he’s angry. He’s angry at the disturbing powers of King Herod and how innocent people die at the whim of another’s wish. Jesus hardly takes a moment to rest and honor his cousin when people, thousands of people start to gather around him. He has compassion for them, spends time with them, and he cures their sick.
Evening draws near, and the disciples start to get hangry. They tell Jesus, “hey. We only have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. There is barely enough food here to feed US. We can’t feed all of them, so Jesus, just send them on their way, so we can eat. We’re hungry!” Even though Jesus didn’t have to, Jesus chooses to feed these people. And not only that, he commissions his reluctant disciples to feed them. Jesus tells them, “YOU give them something to eat.”
Compassion is so deep within us, because it is something we feel in response to other people’s suffering. It literally means, to be “with” one who “suffers.” Com….passion…So Jesus, moved by his own grief and suffering, he knows that many of these people will need to eat. He has compassion on them, and shows them compassion by feeding all of them, more than 5,000, so they are stuffed full. There are even leftovers.
Compassion is in the very fiber of God and compassion is what God wants for us to live into and share with others. Compassion is mentioned in Scripture at least 90 times, often in ways to describe God in relationship to God’s people. Compassion is something we feel in the very depths of our beings, something we’re moved by, something we have and desire, and it is also something we’re full of, compassion is what we can show people.
Mandi is one of my best friends. She is a preschool teacher, a mom of two busy boys, and loves to sew. A few years ago her dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, and he has been through chemo and surgeries and has made it through the rollercoaster of it all. He is doing great – but you won’t find a woman with a bigger heart for fighting colon cancer. She knows the depths of that disease and it’s toll on people’s lives. Not long after Mandi’s dad was declared cancer free, she found out that her former coworker from JoAnn Fabrics, only in her early 30’s, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Colon cancer doesn’t usually hit someone so young, let alone in such an advanced state, but so far her co-worker has been doing well. It has been hard on her. She had surgery that took away a good portion of her colon and some lymph nodes. She’s lost all her hair and is still on chemo. So Mandi took action. She came up with a plan for each of her co-workers to design and sew a quilt square, she then stitched the whole thing together to make a beautiful quilt made with love for this young woman to wrap herself in when she is cold from the chemo. It’s just one little way that Mandi showed her compassion, from her own place of suffering, and gave hope and love to this young woman.
Much like the disciples we are unaware or not convinced that we are able to share in the abundance of God’s compassion to others. We participate with Jesus in showing love for our neighbor by putting aside ourselves and our own selfishness. We sew quilts, or spend a couple of hours serving at the food pantry, or we pray for peace in the Gaza strip. You fill in the blank. Think about your own life and the stress, trials, hardships, the things that you have suffered and grieved. Is it cancer? Is it world hunger? What is it that moves you so deeply that you can feel your stomach twist within you? How might these be things that inform and inspire you to better care and show compassion for others?
Don’t let the opportunity to show someone compassion pass you by. I simply want to end with a facebook post from Sister Kathleen, who works with Ministry on the Margins, a ministry that helps support men and women who fall through the cracks during transitional times, She says,
“I gave a woman a blanket tonight that she could wrap herself as she slept outdoors. I didn’t want to give her a blanket – I wanted to give her a bed and a home and safety and mental health. I wanted her to have a kitchen and recipes and food choices beyond what I had placed in her sack. I gave her so little and she gave me so much: “Thank you.” “God bless you.” A wave over her shoulder as she walked down the street, blanket-wrapped. If you see her on the street, please be kind. She gave me so much tonight.”