Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 9:36–10:8
As a teenager, I had a job waiting tables in a local restaurant. One day, I had a large party, and as I was bringing out a tray full of drinks, I lost my balance, and the entire tray of drinks ended up spilling on one of the men seated at the table.
Like a scene in a movie, everything happened in slow motion. The conversations across the small restaurant stopped. The man sat up straight from the shock of ice cubes falling down the back of his shirt. My adrenaline surged, my heart raced, and my face turned red.
Imagine you’re this man. He’s out to have a nice dinner with his family. Everyone’s eyes turn to you to see how you react. Do you fake a smile and say, “It’s fine” (because you don’t like confrontation)? Do you crack a joke to lighten the mood? Do you clench your teeth and ask to see the manager?
I held my breath and waited for a berating lecture as my manager marched over. But the angry scolding never came. The man turned to me with the kindest smile and said, “It’s ok. I used to be a waiter. These things happen; please don’t worry about it.” And he graciously handed me the empty dripping glasses and wet napkins, possibly saving me from getting fired.
I don’t think I labeled it as such at that particular moment, but looking back, it’s precisely what it was. This is a much smaller example of what we hear about at the beginning of the gospel reading from this weekend.
The opening verse in Matthew 9:36 says, “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity”—some translations say compassion. The Greek root word used is splagchna which means a visceral, gut-wrenching, and emotional response so strong that we are physically moved to action. In the gospels, this word is used in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20), when Jesus healed the two blind men (Matthew 9:27), when He fed the crowd of five thousand (Matthew 14:14), and when He cleansed a leper (Mark 1:41).
Mirriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of other's distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
Awareness + action = compassion.
Compassion is what moved God to send us Jesus. In the second reading this Sunday, we hear, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Theologian W.L. Walker puts it this way:
"The God of the New Testament, the Father of men, is most clearly revealed as ‘a God full of compassion.’ It extends to the whole human race, for which He effected not merely a temporal, but a spiritual and eternal, deliverance, giving up His own Son to the death of the cross in order to save us from the worst bondage of sin…Therefore all who know the God and Father of Christ, and who call themselves His children, must necessarily cultivate compassion and show mercy, ‘even as he is merciful.’ Christianity may be said to be distinctively the religion of Compassion.”
If we are going to be like Christ, compassion is a requirement. But what does that look like?
Sometimes I think I am showing compassion when I share a post on social media to gain awareness of an important cause or donate to an aid organization after watching a sad commercial on TV. In these instances, I’ve become aware of a need and taken action. Compassion, right? Actually, no.
The type of compassion Jesus models for us in the gospels goes deeper. And lucky for us, He gives us the instructions on how to live it: up close, personal, and (more often than not) inconvenient.
“Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).
Start in your backyard, your own community, not online or via social media.
“As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matthew 10:7-8).
Share the good news and help people. Whether you have experienced the same situation (like the man in my story) or are willing to face another person’s suffering (like Jesus did), it means getting close to the messiness of someone else's life.
“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Matthew 10:8).
Expect nothing in return. It may cost you money, but most likely, it will cost something much more precious: your time. (Or your polo shirt and dignity like the man from the restaurant).
Sisters, your call to action this week is to inconvenience yourself for the sake of someone else. Perhaps your next opportunity to show compassion will happen at your local restaurant; you never know.
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling…
When have I seen a need and felt moved to act but held back because it was inconvenient? How can I prepare to respond differently in the future?
Jesus, Your heart of compassion sent You to the cross for me. Help me always to remember this gift and let it strengthen me to show compassion to others without counting the cost. Amen.
 Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume One (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 354.
 W.L. Walker, Compassion, BlueLetterBible.org (2023): https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/dictionary/viewtopic.cfm?topic=IT0002232.