Thursday, April 17, 2008

A lesson in Jesus' School of Compassion

Continuing on my journey through John, here are some thoughts on the following verses, found in the middle of the Lazarus story:

John 11:32b-33: “’Master!’ she (Mary) said. ‘If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’ When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.”

This particular moment, in John’s story, about Lazarus’ death, teaches me a great deal about compassion! Taking a moment to pause, open myself to feeling another’s pain, hurt or distress, is sensitive, compassionate, and an opportunity for God’s heart of love for people to be shared.

There are other verses, through out the Gospel writings, that reveal Jesus is moved emotionally and compassionately by human grief and distress. Of course, there is the infamous “Jesus wept” passage, when he looked out over a city and knew that the men and women who lived there had no peace. There is also an example during Jesus’ death. While hanging on the cross, he looked down and saw his mother, whose heart was surely ripped in two. John was standing near her, and in the middle of horrific physical suffering, Jesus tells John to care for his mother. Examples of Jesus’ compassion is exhaustive, but this moment, in the verse above, would be on the running list.

At music school, I had many classmates from other cultures that did not grow up around Christianity. The name Jesus had little value or place in their lives and upbringing. “Prayer” or “praying” to Jesus was an illusive, somewhat meaningless activity. A teacher in my program was a Christian, and when she encountered a distressed student one day, who was crying and upset, she said, “I’ll be praying for you.” She left and continued on with her day. Not much later, there was a stir amongst the students in my class. A rumor was spreading that our teacher didn’t really care about us. I was puzzled, because she taught with passion, giving her all, and always seemed warm. The uncaring label seemed far from the truth.

It didn’t take long to find out what caused the stir. A handful of students were shocked by the teacher’s coldness toward the girl that had been crying. They didn’t understand how she could just walk away when someone was crying with a comment about something to do with prayer, and not sit with them, or give them a hug, and be with them. I felt bad for my Christian teacher because I knew her intentions had been good and she had been misunderstood. But, it also gave me a new perspective, and I could see why some students may have perceived her as being cold, especially since promises of prayer didn’t have much meaning for them.

How many times have I tried to comfort others in the same way? I know I’ve said to others in distress, “l’ll be praying for you,” without taking a moment to be with them in their sadness, or to sit and stay, and feel some of what they feel at that moment. Sometimes I can be too quick to move toward the subject of hope and a good news ending when I encounter those suffering or even deal with my own sufferings.

Continuing with Jesus example from the above verse, he walks into this mourning situation and, as always with perfection, shows the way of compassion and love, especially toward Lazarus sister’s Martha and Mary. Martha has already come to Jesus, and now Mary has come to him followed by a crowd of Lazarus’ mourners. Jesus greater intention for coming is to apparently “wake Lazarus up,” which actually means, as Jesus has already explained to the disciples, raise him up from being dead a few days. What a miraculous event to take place, just around the corner from this scene!

If I had directed this story (HA!) and I was at the point where Jesus sees Mary and the mourning Judeans all crying, Jesus next line would have been, “Hey guys, no worries! I’m just about to raise Lazarus from the dead and you don’t need to be sad. Cheer up! Something great is about to happen!” Well, there are certainly many obvious and good reasons that I, and everyone else, are glad God is the director of the story instead. Only under God’s direction, is perfect love displayed by what Jesus ACTUALLY does next.

Jesus’ first reaction, is to say nothing at all. He feels. The passage says, “He was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.” This is compassion coming into the scene. Jesus opens himself to feeling with those who are hurting around him. It’s clear from earlier verses that Jesus knew good news was just around the corner and Lazarus would be raised up from death. It’s the greater purpose for which Jesus had come, but his actions show incredible sensitivity because it’s not the first thing he points out a mourning group of people. He is compassionate, pausing to be with those in distress even before pointing to hope.

Christ’s example in contrast to my own actions and those sometimes perceive in Christian culture, got me thinking. What are promises of prayer and hopeful solutions without true Christ exemplified compassion first? And what are some of the things that keep me from embracing the compassion I see in Jesus? For me, sometimes being busy gets in the way, even though I know God is less concerned about my keeping to a daily schedule than I am☺. Also, suffering can just be plain uncomfortable in myself and in others. I usually want to hurry through it. Taking time to pause in grief and pain seems like a damper. Getting to the “happy” side of life feels better. Yet, no one knows better than Christ himself that there is a time and place for every season of the soul.

What a much needed lesson Jesus actions are in the school of compassion! My response right now can only be to pray for help: “Lord, only you are holy and perfect. Help me learn how to pause in the moment with those hurting. Help me to remember that I don’t always need to talk or say something. Help me to be sensitive and compassionate like you. May others see and experience your love through my actions. Amen.”

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