Year B — Proper 11 (The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for July 22, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Not every idea that we have for ministry or for “God’s glory” is necessarily a good idea — at least for the moment. There is something significant about waiting and working on God’s timetable.

David’s motivation for the temple project was most likely very sincere. But, God urged David to wait on that project. God just wanted David to do what God had set before him: be the king, lead the people. 

Unfortunately, David — like so many of us — had a very short attention span when it came to listening deeply and waiting patiently for the will of God. We tire of the plain old day-to-day tasks of ministry and long for something more exciting, something grander. 

Soon, David will “find” an object for his attention and energy — in the form of Bathsheba, another man’s wife. We stray from the path God sets for us at great peril, my friends.

Psalm 89:20-37

What an incredible word of God’s faithfulness to us, in spite of our actual and potential unfaithfulness!

God plans in advance to remain faithful to God’s own covenant promises. We may (and certainly do) stray from God’s commandments, and that always has a cost (vv. 31-32.) But, God does not give up on us (vv. 33-34) — God determines to continue the work of building our lives and making God’s righteousness known throughout the earth. 

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Not every leader among the people of God is a good and faithful leader. This fact is sad, but true. There are “flocks” that have been hurt by unfaithful shepherds — just as there are faithful shepherds that have been injured by their flocks — but that’s another story.

Wherever there has been hurt in the lives of God’s people, God is present to bring healing and restoration. (v. 3) God is the God who makes it right. (v.6)

Psalm 23

God is the restorer of our souls — when we are physically depleted, God guides us to the place of rest (green pastures.) When we are spiritually and emotionally drained, God allows us to drink deeply from the  still waters of God’s own compassion.

Ephesians 2:11-22

This passage forms part of Paul’s clear vision for God’s work in building all the people of the earth into a “new humanity.” Begun in the covenant promises given to Israel, that work is now moving toward completion through the life of Jesus Christ. 

There is one Spirit, Paul says, that grants us all access to the Father. As the Spirit completes the work of fashioning our lives into a temple, we look forward to the time when God will dwell with God’s people — all of them, without division or hostility. (v. 14)

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Compassion costs.

The apostles return from their mission work excited, but a bit exhausted, as well. They have seen and felt the power of God made manifest through their lives. Many, many others have been “blessed” by God as a result of their faithful ministry. Jesus tells them that they have earned a respite — a little rest.

But, alas, there is very little rest for the weary in ministry, it seems. There is almost nowhere that Jesus and the guys can go that there are not needy people waiting on them, hoping for a touch of the Christ. 

Where will the crowds gather in our lives — hoping to be touched by Christ through us? Careful, it’s costly!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“He Had Compassion”

I used to love watching the TV Show Evening Shade. It starred Burt Reynolds as a small town football coach in Arkansas. One night the coach’s two small children were leaning out the upstairs window, looking at the stars.

Boy: I’m glad I’ve got you guys. It sure would be lonely without you.
Girl: Remember Sunday School.
Boy: Remember Sunday School? What do you mean by that? Oh, yeah. You mean how God is always here so we’re never alone.
Girl: Yeah, that’s what I mean.
Boy: Well, I know that’s right, but sometimes I just need somebody with some skin on ’em.

I think most of us know how he feels. The world can be a difficult and dangerous and lonely place. And as comforting as it is to believe in a God in Heaven who loves us and cares about us and has a plan for our lives; sometimes you just need somebody to talk to who will talk back.

That’s why people flocked to Jesus. Sure there were those who had heard about his miracles and just wanted to see a good show. And there were those who were there just because everybody else was there. 

It’s like the Friday night high school football in the small-town south. When my son was in the band I used to sit in the stands and listen to women talk about church and teen-agers talk about who’s dating whom.  One night the Methodist preacher told me where to sit. He said, “This is the section for the football fans. The other people are just here because everybody else in town is here.”

So there were the thrill seekers and the crowd seekers, but there were also the God seekers, those who had heard about Jesus; had heard about his words and his actions and had come to catch a glimpse of the Holy.

Jesus and the apostles had been really busy and really needed a break. So Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

They were going on retreat, on vacation, on holiday.

But it was not to be. By the time they got where they were going, a crowd had gathered.

Jesus looked at them and weighed his own and his companions’ weariness against something he saw in the faces turned up at him, something in the crowd’s eyes. 

What was it that swayed Jesus to give up the plan to rest? I think he looked at them and saw their hunger.  Not a hunger for food, but a hunger for companionship, a hunger for community, a hunger for love, a hunger for God.

Verse 34 says, “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Compassion literally means “to feel with.” Jesus felt compassion for them because he had felt what they were feeling. 

After Jesus’ Baptism, the Spirit drove him into the Wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 
There he learned what it feels like to be abandoned, deserted, alone in the universe.  He also learned what one does and does not need in a time like that.

One of his temptations was to feed the world by turning stone into bread. There in the wilderness, Jesus realized that fixing every human hurt was not to be his mission. People didn’t need a Superman jumping to their rescue. People needed to know that God was in the world with them, not off in heaven above and beyond them. People needed to know that God cared, and that God wanted them to care, and to act with caring as well. 

So, there in the desert, Jesus came to a momentous decision; he would purposely withhold his power, restrain himself.  Throughout his ministry opportunities for healings came to Jesus, but he didn’t go looking for them. Every time he worked a miracle it happened because of those three little words;  he had compassion.

It’s interesting to me how many people don’t believe that; don’t believe that God is love, that God is forgiving and kind and merciful.  Too many people in the world believe that God is anxious to send us all to Hell, that God has plans to send holy warriors to earth in to wipe out the evil doers in a grand final battle. And if you don’t think a lot of people believe that, check out the popularity of the Left Behind series of novels.

That he had compassion is the most important thing we can say about Jesus, and about God. In the midst of a world in which everyone is afraid of their own shadows, and, if they believe in God at all they believe God to be either remote and uncaring, or cruel and vindictive; we in the church have been called to witness to the fact that he had compassion.

Sisters and brothers, we live today in a world full of fear and war. We are afraid of rising gas prices, we are afraid of failing health care systems, we are afraid of immigration and disease and forest fires and drought and drugs, and, and, and . . .

It has been a long time since I have seen this country, and indeed the world, so depressed and sad and frightened and on edge about the future. And into this bog of sadness and sorrow, we the church are called to imitate our Lord and find ways to break into the cycle of fear and violence with words and acts of hope and assurance, words and acts of compassion and healing.

Now, that is a mighty tall order isn’t it? What can one little church do? What can one little Christian do? In the face of all this hurt and pain, who am I? 

Those must have been the sorts of questions a little Albanian nun asked herself over 50 years ago when she found herself in Calcutta, one of the worst and most hopeless places in the world. And what she decided to do was to do what Jesus did in our story, she had compassion on the ones right in front of her. She dealt with the need she was given and did what she could.

She began to pick up the dying beggars off the streets of Calcutta and to give them a decent place to die. That was it. She washed their wounds and their bottoms, she cleaned their sheets and their latrines. She fed them, and bathed them and turned them on their pallets when no one else would touch them. She had compassion, one dying person at a time.

We are called to have compassion, to preach compassion, to teach compassion, to live compassion. We are called to break whatever rules and taboos and cultural barriers necessary to let the world know God is not harsh, God is not out to get them, God is not punishing them for their sins, God is love, God is steadfast, everlasting, never-ending love. 
God is reaching out into the midst of our fear of death with an offer of life, of life eternal.

He had compassion. Jesus had compassion then, and God has compassion now. Open up your hearts and let God love you.  Open up your arms and show God’s love to the world. 


3 thoughts on “Year B — Proper 11 (The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

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