Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [Matthew 9:35-36 (NLT)]

gray-headed or prairie coneflowerMy summer beach novel began with a man having a heart attack on a commuter train. For the next several pages, I was privy to the thoughts of his fellow passengers. They were annoyed and frustrated by the train’s unscheduled stop and saw the man’s collapse as a tremendous inconvenience. As they disembarked to find another way into the city, their thoughts were not of the dying man and his wife but of themselves and how their lives had been disrupted.

My husband has twice been on trains delayed because of a jumper’s suicide on the tracks. His fellow passengers were no different than the fictional ones. Their thoughts were about themselves and how the delay ruined their day. They seemed to forget that the cause of that delay ruined a whole lot more than a day for someone’s family and friends.

A friend who taught typing in the local college several years ago mentioned having had a student with only one arm. When she first saw him, her initial thought was of the difficulty his handicap posed for her as a teacher rather than empathy for the challenges he would face conquering a keyboard. Like the train passengers and my teacher friend, we usually see life through the eyes of self-concern. Forgetting that it really isn’t about us and we’re not the center of the world, our self-interest undermines our compassion.

The disciples were no different. Disturbed and annoyed, they wanted to send away the woman who kept begging Jesus to heal her daughter, the crowd of hungry people they had no money to feed, and the parents who brought their small children to Jesus. Seeing a woman desperate to free her daughter from torment, hungry people requiring food, and children needing His touch and blessing, Jesus wasn’t bothered and never sent people away without meeting their needs. Surely all those people who followed Him and pled for healing inconvenienced and delayed our Lord. Rather than complain, Jesus showed mercy, sympathy, patience and kindness. Christ and compassion go hand in hand but compassion doesn’t always come easily. It’s only human to have our first response be, “What does this mean to me?” or “How will I be affected?” It may be human but it’s not Christ-like.

“It must be hard for you,” said a man to my friend. “Yes,” she admitted, “but it’s much harder for my mother who has Parkinson’s!”  My friend was inconvenienced by caregiving but she understood that it was no picnic for her mother either. On the days she resented the weight placed on her shoulders, she remembered it was even worse for the woman whose weight she was carrying. When she considered life from her mother’s position, any feeling of being inconvenienced was replaced with love and compassion. Isn’t that what doing unto others really means? To truly do unto others we need to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes instead of complaining about a little scuff on ours!

Father, when confronted with other people’s misfortune and difficulties, forgive us when we look to ourselves first. Instead of seeing how we’ve been inconvenienced, help us see ways we can help.  Replace our annoyance with patience, our callousness with kindness and our self-concern with compassion.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. [Colossians 3:12 (NLT)]

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