In today’s Gospel Jesus has been traveling throughout all the cities and towns of Galilee, teaching and curing every disease and every sickness. He has compassion for the crowds, which gather around Him. He likens them to lost sheep, harassed and helpless.
The most important word for me in this first part of the reading is “compassion,” Jesus had compassion on the crowds. His heart reached out to them, seeing that they were helpless and without a shepherd to protect, guide and care for them. His love for all people caused him to want to help them, by curing them and casting out unclean spirits. Jesus saw the needs of people, he felt compassion for them and he served them by ministering to their physical and spiritual needs.
Jesus next told his disciples “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” He had seen the crowds and knew how many needed to experience God’s love for them through healing and learning.
So He summoned his twelve apostles and gave them authority to cast out unclean spirits and to cure the sick. The apostles included fishermen, a tax collector who worked for the Romans, a zealot who was a fiercely nationalistic Jew, and others. How did this diverse group qualify to be the ones to whom Jesus gave his authority? They were the ones who had stayed with Jesus throughout his ministry, who had exhibited their faith in Him.
What does this Gospel tell us about how to live our usual day-to-day lives? What is its importance for us? First, I think it shows us that any of us can be apostles of Jesus, can be sent out to do the work of sharing the love of God. Look at the first twelve and see how they were not perfect in any way, often misunderstanding what Jesus was saying and quarreling among themselves. Some were illiterate and some well schooled. Some were brave and some hung back. What made them stand apart was their faith in God and in Jesus.
It is our faith which qualifies us to be apostles of Jesus. The desire to be one comes from experiencing the love of God and Jesus ourselves. When we do, we want to try to see the crowds as Jesus saw them and to feel compassion as He felt compassion, so we can do as He did by healing through our presence.
Because you are here this morning, you have a desire to foster your faith in God. What can you do during the week to continue to water the growth? Prayer is a great way to grow your faith. You can use the Lord’s Prayer, or prayers from the Prayer Book. You can also just talk to God, telling God what is working and what isn’t as you go through your day. I love ending my day thanking God for what has been good during the day.
Another way to grow your faith is to do a daily reading, from Forward Day By Day or another devotional. You might choose to read a particular book of the Bible from start to finish over a week or so. One of the women who was very important to me as a child used to start at Genesis 1:1 and go straight through the Bible until she came to the end and then she would start again. There are many ways to spend time with the scriptures, which will deepen our faith. Ten minutes is not too much to add into your day and the rewards will be great.
The second important teaching for us is to have compassion on the people we see around us. Try to see as Jesus saw and to feel as He felt. Do you ride the train into Boston every day or take the T to work? If so, next time look around at your fellow riders and ask yourself how Jesus would see them. What about the guy with all those tattoos, or the woman with many piercings? Can you feel compassion for them? Do you remember that God loves them as He does you?
I think the bottom line is, we each have to experience God’s love for us before we can share it. We need to experience compassion shown to us to feel it for others. How can we do that? When we open ourselves to others, show our vulnerability, we let them show us the love and compassion within them, which comes from God. It is risky to do this, especially in a culture where it is seen as weakness to be vulnerable or to show emotion. We New Englanders tend to hold our cards close to our chest, to keep our problems to ourselves.
We also need to remember it is not our strength or talent which is needed to serve others. We have all we need within us through God dwelling in us in the Spirit. If we can trust that, we can move mountains.
Look around you now. Here are people like you who are trying to deepen their faith, who have both strengths and weaknesses, who need to feel the love of God just as you do. This is your family of faith, with whom you can walk while trying to get closer to God, while trying to follow Jesus. These are the people you can be real with, honest with, to whom you can reach out for compassion and with compassion. And these are your companions when you feel compelled to serve those outside these doors who need your compassion desperately.
Dear God, awaken your Spirit within us to enliven our desire to be your apostles in our world. Help us to see with Jesus’ eyes, to feel with his heart and to minister with his compassion. Open us to experience your love for us and your healing grace, so that we can bring your love to others. In Jesus name. Amen