Compassion. To suffer with your neighbor. Compassion is a fundamental characteristic of Christ, one that we are meant to emulate. Jesus had compassion on the crowds. Jesus wept. After the Romans crucified him, he said “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus did not retreat into an ideological corner. He got his hands dirty with the work of healing and reconciliation among people he was supposed to consort with and people he wasn’t. He refused to ignore the image of God in the people with whom he came into contact.
In our gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who walked past a poor man named Lazarus every day as he entered the gate to his home. He ignored Lazarus, who was suffering outside the gate the rich man had constructed to keep the suffering of his neighbors at arm’s length. And when he died, their roles were reversed. The rich man who had enjoyed his wealth with no thought of compassion for his neighbor suffered and Lazarus entered into joy. The gate the rich man constructed became an uncrossable chasm.
People are suffering in our world today. Just this week we have watched (or refused to watch) as two more high-profile police killings of black men have sparked protests, one just down the road from us in Charlotte. Our professional athletes have been peacefully protesting, and the only response some folks can muster is anger rather than compassion over the people and communities for whom they are speaking. We also continue to struggle with what approach to take in places like Syria and Yemen, where children are starving and civilians are being killed every day. Political figures using scare tactics compare them to poisonous candy rather than having compassion for their plight. How should God’s people respond to such suffering? The first step, the most basic response of a follower of Christ, must be compassion. We must learn how to suffer with our neighbors. And then we must turn that compassion into action that demands unjust laws and systems and institutions be discarded for the things that make for peace.
For the Offertory, we will hear a song called “Does Your Heart Break?” by a group called The Brilliance. The entire song is a probing question: do we have compassion for the brokenness of our world? Can we muster this most basic of Christian responses, or will we retreat to our corners and shout each other down? It doesn’t matter what your political persuasion is; does your heart break when a man who is saying “I can’t breathe” is choked to death in the street for selling cigarettes? Does your heart break when you see a bruised and dirty child put into an ambulance in Syria after a civilian building is bombed? If so, we have work to do as the people of God. Let this song move you to compassionate action on behalf of God’s children.