Sermon. March 7, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
Today we are going to focus on Compassion. Now I realize that this might seem like an odd focus to join to scripture on Jesus overturning tables in the Temple, and to the Ten Commandments, but we can understand these scriptures from the perspective of compassion.
Compassion can be divided into two segments. “Passion” meaning feeling, and “com” meaning with. Compassion is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
Clearly Jesus is motivated by compassion when he overturns the tables. The commerce that is taking place in the Temple is especially exploitive of the poor. In order to give alms to the Temple you needed to exchange a government issued coin for a temple coin. This exchange allowed for profits to be made on the exchange.
Likewise, the poor were exploited when purchasing small animals such as doves for religious sacrifice. No doubt Jesus had memory of this exploitation when he visited the temple with his family as a boy.
It was through this marketplace and its exploitive practices that the religious elite raised funds for the multigenerational project of building the temple.
Centuries later Martin Luther symbolically overturned the tables when he opposed the system of paying the church for special prayers. For payment priests would say special prayers to ensure that your deceased loved ones would be given entrance into heaven. This is how the medieval church raised funds for its building projects.
The Exodus story is about God’s compassion for God’s people. There is the liberation of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. There is the 40 – year formation period in the Wilderness, which is more than a typical lifespan of a person at the time. There is the giving of God’s covenant with the people.
The giving of the Ten Commandments can be understood as an act of compassion by God for God’s people. The Ten Commandments provide general guidelines on how to live a covenant life.
Centering our worship, attention, and lives in relationship to God. Living in non-exploitive relationship with each other. Jesus summarizes the Ten Commandments as being about love: Loving God with all of our being, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
The Great Commandment’s call to love underscores the compassion through which God gave the Ten Commandments. We can say that we are able to love because God has compassion for us.
Yet instead of love and compassion Jesus sees exploitation and breaking the Eighth Commandment not to steal. In the temple marketplace the Commandments that were given to ensure non-exploitive relationships among God’s people are being warped by the religious elites in a manner that actually steals from the poor.
Jesus is motivated by a deep sense of compassion for the poor and exploited and this moves him to overturn the tables in the temple. The motivation to work to end injustice, exploitation, and harm in our world today comes from a deep sense of compassion for those being harmed.
Theologian Andrew Dreitcher in his book Living Compassion: Loving Like Jesus points out that in the Bible, compassion is a circle of relationships. Compassion has life and meaning only within the circle of relationships between God, the eternal Source of Compassion, others, and ourselves.
The first relationship comes when we connect with God’s presence. The first section of the Ten Commandments, and the first part of the Great Commandment – loving God, center our attention on our relationship with God as the sacred Source of Compassion.
To love God is to love resting in God’s compassionate Presence. To love God is to love God’s compassion flowing in, through, and for the entire world. This divine Compassion grounds and energizes all that is. God’s presence offers us comfort, healing, and restoration wherever we need it. We are sustained by God’s compassion. We have life, and the promise of everlasting life through God’s compassion.
The circle of compassion continues in our connection with others, our families and neighbors, and the entire world beyond ourselves. Through our compassionate love for others, God’s compassionate love expands and deepens.
We don’t need to plan or envision this, it just flows. The way that our love for a grandchild doesn’t need a mission plan or vision statement to flow. God’s compassion flows through us as we love others.
The Christian faith holds that there is no love of God without loving others. This includes the distant other, the enemy, the vulnerable, and the excluded.
The third relationship in the circle is compassion for self. This isn’t being self – centered or selfish. Self-compassion, the ability to love ourselves grounds our ability to love others. Jesus practiced self-compassion every time he prayed alone. His practice of self-compassion through prayer and solitude grounded his ministry of healing and sharing the Good News.
The Ten Commandments lifts up the circle of relationships between God, others, and ourselves. This circle of relationship is held together through God as the Source of Compassion. This circle of relationship is expanded and expressed through our love for God, our love for neighbor, and our compassion for ourselves.
Where there is exploitation and harm this circle of relationships is broken. Then, as an act of compassion tables are overturned to call attention to the harm, and to all us back into the circle of relationship.
Compassion understood as a circle of relationships is how we express our Core Values as a faith community. Being spiritually alive, making disciples, loving church family, and neighborhood engagement are all ways that we act with compassion within a circle of relationships.
The Ten Commandments along with the story of Jesus overturning the tables reminds us of the importance of this circle of relationships. We are a people of God who is the Source of Compassion. We are a people of compassion. Amen.