In 2019 we were lucky enough to host Peter McVerry at our Come & See Conference. Peter spoke very movingly of his time in Summerhill in North Dublin. It was there that he came face to face with the problem of homelessness and deprivation. This had a profound effect on him, and he devoted his life to working with and for the poor, particularly young people.
Peter was one of those men whose compassion flowed from him as he talked of the young people that he worked with. He almost broke down as he shared their stories and enabled us to begin to understand what was going on in their lives.
The crowds that followed Jesus were like those young people: lost, confused, living under a cruel Roman occupation, needing something to give them reasons to live. The Greek word that we translate as ‘pity’ means to have a gut reaction of compassion. This Gospel is meant to affect our guts, the core of our being.
Jesus is the icon of humanity who helps us understand what the compassionate way of our God is all about and the Gospels record this way for us. He always allowed the suffering of others to touch Him, sometimes even reacting without being asked. Compassion was at the heart of everything Jesus did and He lived His life without concern for reputation, financial security, or self-serving traditions.
The lesson for me is that we should not spend time trying to protect what we have at the expense of being open to the Kingdom and the invitation to enter into the pain of the world. Maybe the challenge of this Gospel passage is to be like Jesus: receptive to others, particularly the poor and the broken.
This call to compassionate living demands a movement away from our natural aversion to suffering. Each of the Synoptic Gospels begins with the word metanoia, which we translate as 'repent'. This isn’t about beating ourselves up for our sins but about falling into the grace of God and realising that God is everything, that God is life. We are to turn around from what the world sees as reality and believe in the Lord’s reality, which is the Kingdom of God. It is an invitation to put on a new mind, to see things in a different way. It always involves an openness to the spirit and a letting go of that which stops us being like God.
It calls for compassion, to not run away from the pain and suffering around us. We are called to be the healing, loving, transforming presence of Christ in the world; to be His hands and feet and eyes. We’re to be His compassion as we proclaim the Kingdom of God.