Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ (Matthew 9:35-38)
“Like sheep without a shepherd.” “Harassed and helpless.” The appropriate response to these conditions – every bit as relevant and true today as it was in Jesus’ day – is compassion. The etymology of the word we translate “compassion” is rather complex, and no translation adequately covers the scope of the Greek intention. What is intended is an interweaving of sympathy, empathy, pity, mercy, and concern that results in a tangible and obvious action. Compassion is not a feeling or abstract concept; compassion is a power, a force, a motivation, a compulsion. Those gifted with compassion have no choice in the matter – they MUST act.
We as the incarnate and Spirit-driven body of Christ are grounded in the power and force of compassion. The church should never discuss and debate whether or not to act. We don’t ask “do we or don’t we;” our only question is “how will we act?” Christian discipleship is never passive. We witness to our faith through our actions, not merely through our beliefs.
In this most challenging time of global pandemic and racial upheaval and unrest, our most pressing conversations should be, “how do we respond? How will we act with compassion?” It is not necessary to take on the whole pandemic of global virus or the pandemic of systemic racism, but it is vital that we take on our part. Everyone can do something, and together God will use us to do amazing things – but only if we make the shift from a passive feeling of compassion to an active, engaged practice of compassion in our communities and in the world.
Redeeming, renewing, restoring God, fill us with compassion. Raise us to our feet, lift our voices, motivate our spirits, and animate our bodies. Help us see new ways of radical discipleship and servant leadership. Use us to be agents of change and transformation in every way possible. We ask all in your Holy Name. Amen.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).