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Showing Compassion to the Weary and Tired

Fr. Luke A. Veronis

There is a story of a simple monk who one day was praying in his cell. As this humble man prayed, suddenly a bright light began shining in his room. He looked up and saw Christ in all his glory, surrounded by the angelic powers. The monk gazed at this vision filled with awe and exaltation. He felt himself richly blessed to see such a vision, and his heart was humbled with love and thanksgiving that the Lord should show such a revelation to a humble monk.

Suddenly, a familiar sound interrupted his joy.  The church bell rang, reminding all the monks to leave their cells and begin their daily work. For this particular monk, his duty was to go to the gates of the monastery, and to pass out bread for the poor, gathered outside the monastery walls.

Doubt and sorrow filled the holy man. Should he leave this holy vision in order to care for the common people? Would he insult Christ by departing the room in order to face a crowd of ragged beggars? Surely, it would be better to stay kneeling in prayer until the vision disappeared.

However, the thought of the poor people waiting at the gates kept coming in his mind. He remembered their hunger, suffering and poverty, and wondered whether it was right to make them wait in hunger and doubt even for a few minutes. As he wrestled in his mind over the two conflicting thoughts, he tried to think of what Christ would do.  Finally, he went out to the gates.  Many poor people came that day. The monk worked as quickly as he could, giving each beggar a loaf of bread with a smile. But for each beggar who received a loaf, there seemed to be two more waiting to receive their share. 

Finally, he finished after several hours, and quickly ran back to his cell, wondering if the vision would still be there. As soon as he opened the door, he fell back from a brilliant light, brighter than the sun. Christ was welcoming him. The vision had waited for him and now filled him with inexpressible joy. As the monk fell down on his face in adoration and love, he heard Jesus say to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You made the right choice. Had you stayed, I would have left.”

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In today’s Gospel reading, we hear how our Lord Jesus was moved with compassion by the weariness of the multitudes, and began teaching a message of love, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven as a present reality, and healing those who suffered from a variety of illnesses. In other words, our Lord saw people weary and tired, and responded with concrete love. True Christian compassion can never be expressed in simply a feeling of sympathy for others, but authentic compassion means love in action – actively reaching out to those in need. This is the Good News of our faith! This is what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. St. Paul warns about false religion where our actions don’t align with our words. He says, if we “speak in the languages of angels and of men, but have not love, we are no more than a noisy gong or clanging cymbal, and if we have faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, we are nothing.”

Compassion and love in action summarizes our Orthodox ethos and identity. Love for God translates into a compassionate love for others, especially those in need all around us!

And the beauty of our faith is that Jesus Christ not only sets the supreme example for his followers – for you and me – but he allows us to take part in His holy love by imitating Him. In the world today, we are His hands and feet. We are His ambassadors who bring His love to all people everywhere. If we are living our faith in an authentic manner, no one would skeptically ask the question, “Where is God in the midst of the world’s suffering?” They wouldn’t ask this question because they would see God in us; they would experience His love through the concrete compassion we His followers offer!

Unfortunately, though, we Christians too often forget this responsibility and privilege. We frequently ignore His call to imitate Him in bringing His Good News to people in need. This is why our Lord Jesus reminds his disciples in the Gospel, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, that the Lord of the harvest send out laborers into His harvest.”

We are the laborers the Lord hopes will respond to His call! Contrary to the common modern mentality, we cannot accept the motto that life is a self-centered play about ourselves! The Christian message is not about me, but about an other-centered love story focused on God’s image in the least of our brothers and sisters, about how we can bring God’s unconditional love to these others! And through loving others who are created in the image of God, we express our sincere love for our Creator Himself! Through this action of reaching out, we also experience His love in an abundant manner in our own lives!

We hear this message again and again throughout Holy Scripture. St. Paul repeats this message when he exhorts, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let us each please our neighbor for his good, leading to their edification… Let us receive one another just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”

Let me make this sermon today as practical as possible. We imitate Christ’s compassion by caring for one another here and now. Look around in your family, in your church, as well as in your local community and open your eyes to those who are hurting and facing unexpected struggles:

Think of those you know who are going through chemo treatments, those who are homebound, those in elderly institutions. And then there are the many who face quiet struggles, some of whom don’t even like attention drawn to themselves. We can think of those who have serious illnesses, others who have ongoing issues, and still others who have temporary struggles, whether physical, spiritual, emotional, or social. Those struggling with addictions. Those struggling with mental illness. Are we trying to reach out to them? Do they feel God’s compassion and love through us?

And of course, we must never limit our compassion, love and care only for “our own”, only for those in our own Church family and community. Authentic Christian compassion and love knows no boundaries. We must share our Lord’s compassion to those hurting, those weary, those tired and struggling all around us – in our neighborhoods, within the workplace, in worldwide crises, and in the many places of violence, poverty, and unimaginable suffering around the world. How are we responding with concrete compassion - with our money, with our time, and with our prayers?

I pray that each of us may truly become people of sincere and concrete compassion, so that we may hear as did the humble monk in the opening story, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You made the right choice!” The choice of compassion. The choice of love. The choice of action!