From Compassion To Action
18th Sunday in OT

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

The gospel reading tells us that on hearing of the execution of John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew by boat "to a deserted place by himself" (Mt. 14:44-52). He must have been badly affected by this bad news not only because John was His friend but also because of the consequences he went through in preaching God's Word: imprisonment and finally, death. Thus Jesus wanted time and solitude to think and pray to discover whether or not He should go on with His mission at all and if yes, how His Father would have Him carry it out.

However, this was not to happen. The crowd found out where Jesus was and followed him on foot. They had come with their hope that He would do something to ease their afflictions. On seeing them, "his heart was moved with compassion." Forthwith He set aside His own need for solitude and prayer and attended to their needs. He saw some of them sick and He healed them. He saw all of them hungry, He fed them even if He had to perform a miracle to do so. Thus His compassion (to suffer with) lessened their sufferings and even gave them hope to go on. In other words, His compassion was translated into action. And it was hope- and life-giving.

The apostles also had compassion on the people. But theirs was a different kind. Seeing it was getting dark, they advised Jesus to "dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves." That was just how far their compassion went.

From this gospel episode, we can easily see that Jesus was genuinely concerned not only for the spiritual but also for the material welfare of the people. His compassion extended to the whole person--its material and spiritual needs.

Jesus wants us to have compassion. But not the kind of compassion the apostles had, a compassion without corresponding action, a compassion that points to others to do the action needed. Rather, Jesus wants us to adopt His kind of compassion--one that flows directly into action and thus gives encouragement and is life-giving.

A story is told of a farmer whose farms were full of corn. Every morning on waking up, he prayed aloud that the needy would also be supplied with corn. But when anyone in need asked for a little of his corn, he said that had none to spare.

One day after hearing his father pray for the poor and the needy, his little son said to him, "Father, I wish I had your corn." "What would you do with it?" asked the father. The child replied, "I would answer your prayer."

The farmer had compassion for the needy. He prayed that their needs be supplied. But his compassion was the same as that of the apostles--a compassion without corresponding action. Worse, his compassion thrived on a lie--though he lived in abundance, he said that he had none to spare for the needy. It took his son to point out the incongruence of his situation and thus his prayer.

Jesus wants us to help one another, to give joy and hope to each other--to be our brother's keeper. For did not Jesus say, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me?"

Yet how often do we see the reverse happening by the misuse of our God-given faculties, talents, time, and resources? Instead of using them to give joy and hope to others, we make their life more miserable. For example, we only see the negative traits of others as if we do not have any of our own. Not only that, many of us find joy in talking about their negative traits. Acting thus, we not only make other people suffer untold pains and misery but we also close or even bring death to our relationship with them. How true is the statement, "Saying nasty things behind other peoples' back is an indirect way of praising ourselves." What many of us do just to be indirectly praised!

Would it not be better to follow the saying "If you have nothing good to say about someone, then say nothing?" Definitely, that is a much better attitude than to be critical in a destructive way. But just to avoid saying negative things is not enough. As Christians we are to make our compassion flow into action--by praying for and thinking well of others, by talking about their positive traits, by complimenting them for a job well done, by being encouraging and supportive of their good works, by sharing with those who have nothing from the little we have, etc. In short, we are to show compassion by giving of ourselves and our resources in the same way as Jesus did.

Let us ask for the grace to have the same kind of compassion that Jesus had. A compassion that give encouragement and support to others in their difficult moments. A compassion that builds better interpersonal relationships. A compassion that leads to action. In short, a compassion that gives joy and life.