As I indicated in the Introduction to the Mass the theme of both the first reading, that from 1 Kings and that from the Gospel is compassion. Compassion is the deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another, together with the inclination to give aid or support or to show mercy.
Both accounts in today’s readings involve the death of an only son of a widow. Way back when these scripture were written when a Jewish widow lost her only son she lost her only support and is required to fend for herself by begging or gleaning fields, that is gathering grain left behind by reapers. In 1 Kings, Elijah exhibited his compassion when the son of a widow died while Elijah was living with them. The widow lived in the town of Zarephath, which is across the Jordon River from Israel. The widow had given Elijah food and a place to live while he was hiding from King Ahab, the King of Israel. After the widow had provided Elijah food and shelter, her son died she blamed Elijah for his death and shouted at Elijah, “What have I done to you? Did you just come here to cause the death of my son?” Elijah showed his compassion by taking the boy in his arms and went upstairs to his room and stretched himself out over the boy and prayed to the Lord three times, “Lord God, bring this boy back to life.” The Lord answered Elijah’s prayers and the boy started breathing. Then Elijah picked the boy up and gave him to his mother. Needless to say the woman was no longer angry at Elijah and said, “Now I know that you really do speak for the Lord.”
In like manner Jesus showed his compassion in the account in today’s Gospel. Another widow who lost her only son in another town, Nain, Israel and Jesus exhibited his compassion by stopping the funeral procession, and having compassion for the widow, told her, “Don’t cry!” and then he said, “Young man, get up!” The boy sat up and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Those are great examples of people exhibiting compassion but those aren’t situations which anyone of us are not likely to experience yet there are multiple situation in which you and I are called to exhibit compassion.
All it takes is for us to be willing to leave our comfort zone and exhibit real empathy, be willing to identify with and understand another’s situation, feeling and motives.
There is a story of a television anchorwoman in New York who a couple years ago left her luxurious East Side apartment with just 80 cents in her pocket and spent five days living on the street “to learn what it is like to be homeless.” She spent the days wandering the streets in icy January rain and nights sleeping in doorways, train stations and public shelters. She began to realize that most of the homeless people were not much different from her. Several people helped, giving her food and advice on how to survive without money. That undercover investigation made her realize that many homeless people are simply normal people who have been hit with financial problems from which they have not been able to rebound. There was no other way for this successful media person to know how they felt other than to walk where the homeless walk and potentially have some compassion for them.
There was another man who had left comfort and convenience to walk where outcasts walk. He was the same man who had compassion on the widow of Nain, Israel. That is the message of the cross. He has walked where we walk. When it is time for us also to walk the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, he walks with us. Yes, that man was Jesus.
Exactly a month I was able to exercise a gift of a lifetime, 10 days in Israel, #1 on my bucket list. In those 10 days not only did I walk the Via Dolorosa, The Way of Sorrows, I was as well able to walk in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capharnam, The Upper Room, Herod’s Palace, Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre among others sites. What a fantastic reminder of the compassion Jesus has for each of us and what he was willing to do rather than backing down on anything he taught. What a fantastic trip! What a fantastic brother Jesus is!
Yes, Jesus left the comfort and convenience of Nazareth to walk the Way of Sorrows just to bring God’s Truths to us and show us that no matter what difficulties we might face, he understands and has compassion for us and will provide us whatever we need to bring us through whatever we face.