We are slightly updating this weekly email to include not only the reading and reflection (with some questions for personal reflection) but also some news and prompts for your prayers during the week. If there is anything else you would like added to these emails please let Benjamin know.
The reflection was used as part of our Morning Prayer on Pentecost which you can view on our Facebook page of on this YouTube video.
Through this strange season we are also trying to capture our impressions of where God is calling us as the Church at this time. To help with this we would be delighted if you could answer some short questions using this link:
"Where are travelling as a Church during Covid-19?"
You will have seen in the news that the Government is making it possible for the limited reopening of Churches for private prayer and funerals in the coming days. I am working with the Church Wardens and PCCs to put in place a policy to allow this to begin in a very limited way on Sunday 21 June. I hope to be able to say more in the coming days. Please be reassured that the safety of all who might use our Church buildings is paramount in this planning.
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. Then 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.” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
If there is one thing I have noticed about myself over the last few months of this strange season it is that I am tired. Not tired in the sense of bored and frustrated by the realities of the current situation, although that is true as well. I am just a little more tired than usual. I am, like a lot of other people I speak to, not sleeping quite as soundly as I might. Stirring in the night leads to the mind wandering to the uncertainty and instability of this time, which leads to an interrupted night sleep, which means I’m a bit tired. I say this not for your sympathy but really as a statement of fact. When we eventually come out of this strange season I suspect that we will all look back and recognise that we were all more anxious, more fearful, and just more tired than we perhaps realised at the time.
My reason for starting with this thought is that when you are just a bit more tired some things start to slip away. Our ability to overcome simple cravings – perhaps for another biscuit or another drink – are not quite there. The motivation to exercise is not what it might be. But more than both of these, I find that if I’m tired, I am just a little less patient, a little less understanding, a little less compassionate than I might or should be.
That is why Jesus’ call to compassion that we find our Gospel reading today is such a powerful and prescient one. Although written in the context of first-century Judea, it feels like the scene setting for our reading today could have been written for our own time.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
In these challenging and extraordinary times, we need to recognise that we are all tired, we are all harassed and, in many ways, helpless. That is not just a truth for those we live with or see from day to day. It is a truth that our political and church leaders are living with. It is a reality that touches the lives of everyone in this crisis. Fighting a virus we still know so little about, and which we struggle to manage and contain, we are all tired, we are all harassed and helpless, we all need compassion.
To hear that God in Jesus has compassion for our helplessness should not be a surprise. Thomas Merton, the great American monk and spiritual writer, once said that if God only had one name, that name would be compassion. As we encounter that truth in the context of our reading today, we need though to be careful not to read this vision of compassion too simplistically.
When we speak of compassion the temptation is to think of this as a one-sided affair, where we are the passive recipients of Jesus’ compassion. When you are tired, and harassed and helpless, as many of us are at the moment, this is a comforting thought. That through our anxiety and fear God reaches out an arm of comfort to us.
To understand compassion in this way is, however, only to read half of what Jesus is doing in this passage. Jesus looks out and see our need with compassion, this we know. But then Jesus goes further. With this compassion he calls on us to go into a world so in need of compassion, and transform it in the light of that compassion. Through that compassion Jesus calls us be agents of the Good News, to seek healing, to bring life and light to places of darkness. Compassion becomes not only the lens though which God sees the world and its need. Compassion is the lens through which God calls us to change and transform the world around us.
To act with compassion then calls on us to recognise the tiredness and fallibility of those around us. We are living through an extraordinary crisis. Mistakes have and will be made. When we are tired, when we are irritable it is all too easy to see those mistakes and failures as the malicious acts of malevolent forces. But to do this is not to act first with compassion. If we seek God’s compassion for our own need, then when we reach out in compassion we need to see first the tiredness and fallibility of those we might challenge and criticise; people who need, above all things, our compassion. To act through compassion requires of us and others to recognise when we have failed, where we have fallen short. To act through compassion not only requires us to see the need in other, it also requires us to recognise our own needs and shortcomings.
So as this strange season continues this might be a time for us to reflect on our own actions with compassion and, if needed, to simply say sorry when our actions have fallen short because we have been, at a very basic level, harassed and helpless and lost in this crisis. It also needs us to use compassion as the lens through which we question and challenge those who have led us through this unprecedented time. To ask them where they would have acted differently, where mistakes might have been made, not to point the finger or seek out the guilty, but to recognise with compassion the extraordinary challenge and cost of this crisis. As Jesus shows us, if we seek healing and life and good news on the far side of this crisis we can only find our way there through the lens of compassion.
We still have a long way to travel in this crisis and we will continue to feel a tired and harassed by the whole thing for longer than we would like. In this reality, however hard it might be for us to find, we need above all things compassion. Not simply the compassion that God offers us in Jesus to meet us in our place and time of need. We must to recognise the need of all who are harassed and helpless and in need of God’s compassion at this time.
Questions for Reflection through the week
- How have you been feeling during this time?
- How as this affected how you have reacted to things?
- What might it look like to use compassion as the lens through which we respond to this crisis?
Collect for First
Sunday of Trinity
God of truth,
help us to keep your law of love
and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life
in Jesus Christ your Son.
Please keep in your prayers: Lesley, Archie, Dorothy, Sheila, Margaret, Carolyn, Judith, Mandy & Laura & Matthew.