Christmas is coming, and for the college students, this is your last Sunday until next year. So I wanted to give you one final message going into the holiday season. Jackie calls me Scrooge because I really don’t care for Christmas. That sounds weird. How can a pastor not love the birthday of Jesus? That’s the part I love, but I don’t especially care for Santa and the shopping and taking people like us who already struggle with selfishness and giving us a holiday to encourage even greater heights of selfishness.
There is an expression in Korean culture that during the holidays when there is down time, you become swollen and bloated like a noodle that has been sitting in the broth for too long. Come on, if you are Asian, you know what I am talking about. You want to eat the noodles while the soup is piping hot. You don’t want it to sit there for a couple of hours and for a film of oil to form on the surface and the noodle to soak up all the liquid and become swollen. This expression refers to people who let themselves go. It’s like after marriage, spouses let themselves go. They stop caring how they look, they put on weight and wear sweats around the house.
Spiritually, I find Christmas to be one of the low points of the year. I see it in my life and I see it in the lives of college students. Because we become bloated. We had a long, stressful year and we just want to sit there and do nothing. We let ourselves go. Sleep 10-15 hour days, eat, then take a nap. Or we veg in front of the TV. And while we are semi-awake, we buy things that we don’t really need for people who already have everything. And after a few weeks of that, we dust off our Bibles and come back and stumble into a new year. It happens every year and there is a spiritual inertia that takes several weeks to overcome. That’s my experience during the Christmas season.
I want to challenge you to end this year strong. We started this year with a vision originating from the greatest commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and strength. Don’t let your disciplines go. Spend time with him. Gather with God’s people and worship Him. That’s why we are here every Sunday. To love God and to fan into flame our love for Him. And with that fired up, rekindled love, we are to live out part 2 of the greatest commandment–to go out into the world and to love our neighbors.
Today, I want to focus on the latter. Loving your neighbor. More specifically, in light of the holidays, I want to talk about compassion.
Please turn with me to Matthew 14. We have been studying through the gospel of Matthew and by God’s providence, on this Sunday, we end up in this chapter. We will do a broad stroke over the entire chapter, but I want to start by reading verses 13-21. Matthew 14:13-21.
What is compassion?
The root is passion. Easter is when we talk about passion, Christ’s passion, which refers to his suffering as he bore the weight of our sins on the hill of Calvary. Because of what Christ did for us on THE Hill, hence the name of our church, Christians, we are to be a city on a hill. For us, our hill is called Pasadena. We’ve been called to this place to shine the light of Jesus to a city that does not know Him.
Compassion – because of Christ’s willingness to undergo passion and suffer for us, we can in turn look at others who are suffering and sympathize WITH them, suffer WITH them, bear WITH them. Com – passion, it means to suffer with.
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
When we see a crowd, we walk the other way. But Jesus is not like us. Jesus landed and he was surrounding by a crowd of sick people. And what was his reaction? He had compassion on them. He felt their pain and he did something about it. It wasn’t just cheap emotions that comes and goes. Like the tinge of something you feel in your heart when you watch commercials about starving kids in Africa. You may even shed a tear in the moment, but then the commercial ends and the Lakers come on and you forget almost immediately about the starving kid. Those emotions may be very sincere, but they don’t equate to compassion. Emotion is a start, but it can’t end there. Jesus felt emotional heartache to be certain when he saw suffering, but he proceeded to do something about it. Loving God always overflows, always spills over to our neighbors, esp. our neighbors in need.
Compassion is looking at a person in need, a person who is suffering and asking, how can I help this person, what can I do to alleviate some of his, some of her burden? It’s more than emotion. It’s emotion leading to action.
I want to point out that Jesus showed compassion and healed and later fed the crowds without expecting anything in return. He wasn’t healing them in order to recruit them to a movement. He wasn’t trying to get them to join his church. There was no church yet. He wasn’t trying to add them to his discipleship group. He wasn’t asking for their money, nor was he asking them to do anything for him. Jesus was simply providing some temporary relief for their suffering. Healing the sick and filling their stomachs. Tomorrow, they’d be hungry again. But for this one meal, he wanted to provide and let them enjoy some food free of sickness and pain.
Compassion is love with no strings attached. This is a foreign concept for us. We love because we want people to love us in return. We love because we want people to thank us. We love as Christians in a church because we want them to come to our church. But Jesus shows us here how to show compassion and relieve suffering in another person’s life, even a little bit, with no strings attached.