BY REV. PERRY AALGAARD -- FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH OF WEST OKOBOJI
In the twelfth chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus is asked what commandment is the most important. Jesus responded with these words: "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
What Jesus effectively did was to take the two categories of the law -- loving God and loving the neighbor -- and combine them into one. Love God through loving your neighbor.
How do we love our neighbor? The answer to how we love our neighbor is not so simple. One way to show love to others is to have compassion for them. This is more than being sorry they are suffering or even understanding how they feel, but is to actually walk with others in their suffering. We are called to be with people where they are suffering. Think about it, we are given the opportunity to love God each time we see someone (the neighbor) suffering. Each time we see someone in pain and struggling with life we are able to show God some love. This puts a different view on how we reach out and care for those who are struggling and need compassion. We were made to love others and we are called to love our neighbors.
Two weeks ago I posted two videos and some questions on Facebook to congregation members and friends. What I received in responses were interesting perspectives on what it means to receive compassion and what it means to show compassion. One of the responses spoke of how we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the others so that we can show the compassion needed. An important part of compassion is being able to co-suffer with someone, which is one of the definitions of compassion. It is possible we have walked the same path as someone else and because of the journey we were on, we are able to co-suffer with others. Being with someone in their suffering does not mean we have to, or even can, fix the issue at hand. The important part of being with someone is they are not alone in their suffering.
Jesus was born into this world as fully human, and this means he knows what it is like to live our lives. He knows what it is like to feel the pain of physical injuries, loss of loved ones, rejection, betrayal and even the feeling of being alone. On the cross Jesus cried out, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus was feeling alone at that point. I believe we all feel this same emotion in our lives, that feeling of being all alone with no one caring, even God. The reality is God does not turn from us. In Jesus we have a friend who has walked the path of suffering and knows how we feel.
I believe God works through the Holy Spirit, bringing people to co-suffer with us. God works through our hands and through the hands of our neighbors to show love to those who are suffering. Listen for the Spirit, listen for the clues God is placing in your heart and minds to open your hearts to co-suffering with your neighbor. Whether you are the one who is suffering or if you are the one who is showing compassion, God is working to bring people together to make a difference in the lives of others.
Compassion is also a contagious act. The more you are in contact with others the more the acts of compassion can spread. When we feel the love of others we want to share what we have been given with others. So today I challenge you to look and listen for the clues the Holy Spirit is putting in your life to bring compassion to those around you. Let your life be with compassion, so those you meet will catch it also, thereby changing the world one person at a time.