Complete Compassion. 16th Sunday after Trinity 2014
16th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 7:11-17
October 5, 2014
Beloved Congregation: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
The Lord had compassion on her? Of course. Wouldn’t any decent person have compassion on a widow who had to bury her only son?
But the Lord is not a “decent person.” He is the Lord. He struck Aaron’s two sons dead for offering strange fire before Him and commanded Aaron not to mourn for them. He drowned the entire world in the flood and saved only eight people.
The Lord is not a “decent person.” The scribes and Pharisees were decent people. Jesus pronounced woe upon them, called them snakes. He knows what is in so-called “decent people” unless they are reborn. And what is in them is not compassion. They are like whitewashed tombs, which look neat and respectable on the outside, but inside are filled with death and uncleanness.
Don’t try to reduce the Lord’s compassion to something manageable and reasonable. Jesus’ compassion is unreasonable. It is far greater than anything called compassion among fallen people. Jesus compassion is complete. It is so deep and high and wide that St. Paul has to pray that the Christians will have strength to know and grasp it. Human strength alone cannot handle the Lord’s love and compassion. It is like the fire that burned the bush in the desert but the bush was not consumed. The Lord’s love is as strong as death and as unyielding as the grave (Song of Solomon).
Do you have compassion on murderers and child molesters when they go to jail and suffer for their crimes? If you do, no decent person would say, “Of course, you should have compassion on them.” In fact a lot of decent people would say, “Why don’t you save your compassion for someone who deserves it, like their victims?” And it’s hard to argue with that. The compassion of decent people doesn’t generally extend to those who suffer because they have committed heinous crimes and deserve it.
But the Lord’s compassion does extend to such people, because His compassion is complete. He has compassion on the most undeserving. This compassion made Him enemies among the decent people of His day and it often disappointed His supporters. But Jesus was compassionate to the point that it was a proverb about Him. He broke bread with whores and thieves. His miracles were all acts of kindness and relief. Never did Jesus call down fire from heaven, judgment on people who deserved it. Even among those who hated Him and plotted His death, the Lord Jesus was compassionate. He ate and drank with the Pharisees and never raised His hand to defend Himself against those who sought to kill Him. The Lord had compassion on the men who drove the nails through His hands and feet, and as the blood and tears flowed from the brutal wounds the Lord prayed for the ones who put Him to death. Because of Jesus’ compassion His disciples deserted Him when He did not fight those who came to arrest Him. Because of His compassion His enemies mocked Him: “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself.” This is not the compassion of decent people. It is divine compassion.
The Lord did not have to have compassion on that grieving widow. Decent people would have compassion on her, a sort of compassion, but the world’s decent people think nothing of sin. It’s not a big deal to what we call decent people that this woman and her son had sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. But sin is a big deal to God, even the sin that lies hidden in the heart. God warned the first woman and man that on the day they ate from the tree of knowledge they would surely die. And after they had fallen, God pronounced this curse on the woman: “I will greatly increase your pain in childbearing.” That means not simply that the pains of giving birth would be like death pains. God was also talking about the grief of bringing children into the world who are destined to die.
But wasn’t it just? Was God unjust to punish His creatures with the curse of death, when they had rejected the living God and decided that they wanted to be free of God, who is life?
So when we mourn and see ourselves and our loved ones die, we are receiving the just reward for our sin—sin that our first parents committed and to which every generation has added through six thousand years.
But the Lord had compassion. And when the Lord has compassion on this grieving widow and on you in your grief, it is far more than the ordinary response of any “decent human being.” It is the Lord choosing to suffer with and for His foes. It is like the near folly of having compassion on a murderer or child abuser when he gets the just punishment for his deeds.
This is the kind of compassion that grips Jesus when He sees the funeral procession and hears the widow’s wails. It is a pain that stabs through His heart and pierces His guts. He suffers with her for the sin which she herself has done against Him. Jesus’ compassion is complete. It is directed toward people who are totally undeserving. And it is a completely consuming compassion. Jesus doesn’t just merely feel some sympathy for this woman and others suffering the pain of grief and death. He suffers their grief Himself. He takes it on His own body and soul. He makes it His own.
The Lord’s compassion is never a mere emotion without action. Because He has compassion on the widow, He does something. He tells her, “Don’t weep.” He steps up to the funeral procession and touches the coffin, and immediately the pallbearers stand still. He speaks, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the young man is instantly set free from death. He sits up and begins speaking. And Jesus gives him back to his mother.
If this is all true, then where is Jesus’ compassion today? Jesus must have the same compassion today, because He is the Lord, and the Lord does not change. And His compassion is complete. He has compassion on those who are guilty and deserve death. And His compassion is not a limited human sympathy. HE is pierced to His heart and His marrow with the sorrow of sinners who have deserved their grief. He takes their tears and their grief as His own.
So where is His compassion today? We have mothers today who have had to bury their children? Where was Jesus then? Why didn’t He stop the funerals and tell the wailing mothers, “Do not weep?”
My beloved, Jesus has not changed. His compassion is the same today as it was for the widow in Nain. It is complete. Today He does greater miracles for us. Then He gave the widow back her son, but only for a time. Both the widow and the son were still subject to death.
But now He gives life that is eternal and cannot be taken away. He takes away death completely.
It looks to our eyes like fallen human beings are alive as they go about eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. But they are not alive. They are dead. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, before the Lord found them hiding amidst the trees of the garden, they also looked like they were alive and thought that they were alive. But they were already dead. Death had already taken hold of them. They were dead like a death row inmate is dead before he receives the lethal injection. He is simply waiting for his death to be completed.
In the same way human beings are born dead and remain dead. “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” Paul says to the Ephesians in the second chapter. He doesn’t say, “You were spiritually dead,’ but simply, “You were dead.” Our lungs still breathed and our hearts still beat, but we were born dead. From the moment of conception we were stained with sin and marked for death. And everything in us resisted and rejected life. All of your thoughts and desires pursued your own purposes, not God’s. You were unable to come to God, who is life. You only knew how to resist Him and run away.
“And you He made alive,” says St. Paul, “who were dead in your trespasses and sins.” The Lord had compassion on you. He saw you dead in transgressions and sins and didn’t merely extend the years of your life but destroyed death itself for you. He didn’t merely look on you and feel sympathy but was pierced to the heart and guts with love for you and He took the suffering of death upon Himself for you.
His compassion is complete. Even though we were only getting the just punishment for our sins, He had compassion on us. No one was excluded from this compassion. And He did not merely suffer with us but took our suffering on Himself. He took upon Himself all the sin from Adam and Eve’s first transgression, and all that multiplied with every generation, and all of your sins, and all of its bitter consequences. He took it all on Himself out of great compassion. And He put it out of the way. He swallowed up death and made it empty out into life and resurrection when He rose from the dead.
And you He made alive together with Him. He raised you from the dead. He set you free from death, not simply saying, “Rise,” and giving you back to live an earthly life and die again later. He baptized you into His death and resurrection so that death is no more. You are truly alive—alive in God. You have the life that is truly life and does not end.
Scripture testifies to this again and again, to this new birth that He gave you in Baptism. It is a greater miracle than the miracle for the widow at Nain because all who receive this Baptism in faith share in the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Colossians 2 says, “In Jesus all the fullness of the Godhead lives in bodily form, and you have been filled in him…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
And in Ephesians chapter 5, St. Paul writes that Christ gave Himself up for us that He might cleanse us through the washing with water by the Word—that is, holy Baptism, where the word of God is joined to the earthly water. And He washed us and made us clean there that He might present us to Himself as a radiant bride, without any spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.
Jesus gave the boy at Nain back to His mother, but you who have been baptized into Christ are cleansed from all sins and death and are a holy virgin bride who He will present to Himself before the Father on the last day. May His compassion strengthen our faith in this and bring us to that day.