(sermon note: 03-21 sermon note)
Then he [Jesus] took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’ But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who’s cousin called and asked to borrow $300 to help cover the rent. Those who knew the man knew he was always willing to help out friends and family. The man asked his cousin to give him some time to think about it and he would call her back. But before he called her back, his aunt called and told him that his cousin was lying and not to give her the money. She went on to say that the real reason the man’s cousin wanted the $300 was to get her boyfriend out of jail so she could be under the same roof as him for his birthday. The man thought about it for a minute and eventually decided to give her the $300 because we all need help at times. So the man called his cousin and told her to come and get the money. A couple of hours later, he got a call from the county jail. It was his cousin crying, screaming, and asking why he gave her counterfeit money. His response: “So that you and your boyfriend could be under the same roof for his birthday!”
I suppose not all compassion bears the same types of fruit. Clearly some fruit can be quite bitter and difficult to swallow. Compassion produces all types of fruit, some sweeter or healthier than others. That man’s compassion towards his cousin may have been bitter but probably healthier for her in the long run, giving her some time to think about trying to take advantage of her cousin’s generous nature ever again. Which goes to show how complicated a gift compassion can be at times. The man was right, we all need help at times, but the help we receive is often different than the help we expect or even want. It’s like the world knows the help we need instead of the help we want or expect. That man’s cousin needed to respect her cousin’s generosity and the world helped her get that respect. Of course, by “world” I’m referring to none other than God himself. God is primarily concerned with helping us meet our needs more than our wants and expectations. Oh sure, on occasion He likes to give us what we expect or want but we’d be fools to believe that is his primary objective in giving to us. No, He likes satisfying our needs more than our wants and expectations. And this preference of his doesn’t necessarily take away from his generosity. He is still very much a God of abundance, He gives abundantly in ALL that He gives. We just have a lot of needs, needs we aren’t even aware of, and God provides richly to meet those needs. Our God is a good and generous God in meeting both our needs and our wants.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the theme of God’s compassion and grace in our readings for this Lenten season. All of our readings this season have served to illustrate the deep compassion God has for us, his most beloved children. Think back to Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. The Jewish man was stripped and beaten and left alongside the road. Both a priest and a Levite pass by the man without stopping to help. Only a Samaritan, a known enemy to the Jew, stopped and had compassion on the man, giving him the help he needed. Then, in Jesus’ parable of the fig tree we heard how the master of the garden was displeased with the fig tree’s inability to produce and wanted it cut down. The gardener bargained with the master to keep the tree alive another year so the gardener could get it to produce. The master showed compassion on that tree and let the gardener have it’s way with it. In the parables of the lost coin and sheep and prodigal son, again we heard of great compassion shown in seeking out the lost coin and sheep as well the father giving his son his inheritance and welcoming him home after squandering it. Last week, we heard of the rich man being unaware of the needs of those around him and presumably condemned to eternal suffering for it. Although God didn’t show him compassion by easing his suffering or promising to warn his loved ones left in this world, God hadn’t forgotten that unfortunate man. He still spoke to him through Abraham, a compassionate act of instilling hope. And today, we hear again of our God’s deep and abiding love for us. The blind man was hushed by the crowd around him. Zacchaeus was overshadowed by the crowd around him. Yet both men were sought out by God and received his compassionate healing and blessing. All our readings…all of them show us just how compassionate and gracious our God can be! Our God IS a good and compassionate God! Our God knows our needs. Our God wants to help us in our times of need. And our God finds clever and unusual ways to help us, using unexpected people and strange situations in our lives to help us.
Our God is a good and gracious God. Jesus’ parables and encounters testify to God’s goodness and graciousness. He is our loving and kind and compassionate God. We need to remind ourselves of this now more than ever. We’re wrapping up another Lenten season of prayerful reflection as we head into Palm Sunday and Holy Week next week. We’re also closing out a year of great anxiety and fear surrounding the global pandemic. I know, I know, we’re not out of the woods yet but with increased access to vaccination as well as stimulus relief from the government, things are starting to look up. It was a hard season, a hard year…a time when many of us questioned the love and kindness and compassion of our God. But our readings have done a great job of reminding us of the love and kindness and compassion of our God! Indeed, all of scripture reminds us of these qualities as well. Recall what Paul wrote in the greeting of his second letter to the Corinthians, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, to that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (1:2-4) It is his great compassion that enables him to console us and show great mercy to us. He loves us and wants us to share that love with each other, be compassionate towards each other. And the psalmist sings, “as a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” (103:13) Friends, we should always stand in awe of our God. He is a most awesome God, worthy of our highest praise and adoration! He finds us when we are lost. He shows impossible love for us over and over again! He shows impossible compassion for us over and over again! We hear him boldly proclaim in Exodus, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (33:19)
Of course, we know He showed his greatest grace and mercy and love through his son on the cross. Let us head into Holy Week not necessarily sorrowful for the suffering of Jesus but rather grateful for the compassion that God shows us through that suffering. Our God uses that suffering to grow us and deepen our relationship with him. Let us give thanks for his everlasting compassion. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.