Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. (Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.") Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
About This Week's Meditation Prompts
Reading this text so soon after Pentecost influences the way I see it. If I were reading about the sending out of the disciples in November, or sequentially in a Bible Study on the Gospel of Matthew under timeless fluorescent lights in a parish hall, I would be amazed at Jesus sending them out so early – before the crucifixion and resurrection the ascension and coming of the Holy Spirit – the events that proclaim the Gospel in events more than words. Not that the Apostles were more perfect after the anointing of the Spirit, but they had a more complete picture than they do in chapter nine.
So it is probably the post-Pentecost timing that allowed this phrase to stand out: Seeing the crowds he had compassion for them... And suddenly I saw Jesus, like the Holy Spirit, conferring compassion upon the disciples and sending them out. Or, perhaps, sending them out, so that compassion might challenge them, widen, expand, break open, spill out, teach them how hardened or vulnerable they are. Teach them to what extent they fall short of love. Compassion offers an unending and plentiful harvest as love melts boundaries and prejudices.
Today's meditation prompts offer perspective on the encounter outside one's self. Dom Helder Camara invites us to hear the voice of God in the cries of the helpless, the oppressed, the poor,. And Martin Luther King Jr. asks us to look at the systems that cause such suffering.(Meditation One: Introit)
In the midst of a time which “at any moment may become for us all a time of terror” Dorothy Day finds herself falling short in love, and yet realizes that at heart what everyone wants is to be loved, and that her love, and yours and mine, must expand to meet that need. (Meditation Two: Insight).
Madeleine Delbrel reminds the reader of the incarnational imperative to be the Word in the world, (Meditation Three : Integration) and that wherever God has placed us is a place of holiness (Last Word). The harvest is plentiful – see you out on the streets and byways, Suzanne
Wheat, Tacuinum Sanitatis
Breaking down the barriers between the givers and the receivers of aid, between those who have and those who have not, is an essential expression of the solidarity that liberates the privileged from their blindness and the marginalized from their invisibility.
Theodore W. Jennings b. 1942 Good News to the Poor
He needs you That's all there is to it Without you he's left hanging Goes up in dachau's smoke Is sugar and spice in the baker's hands gets revalued in the next stock market crash he's consumed and blown away used up without you
Help him that's what faith is he can't bring it about his kingdom couldn't then couldn't later can't now not at any rate without you and that is his irresistible appeal
-Dorothee Soelle 1929-2003
Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that … allows us to bear witness to … suffering, whether in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion … is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception.
- Sharon Salzberg Lovingkindness:The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
The joy and hope, the grief and anguish, of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.
-Gaudium et Spes Vatican II Document
Rye, Tacuinum Sanitatis
Meditation One (Introit) The Voice of God
We live in a world where millions of our fellow men live in inhuman conditions, practically in slavery. If we are not deaf we hear the cries of the oppressed. Their cries are the voice of God.
We who live in rich countries where there are always pockets of underdevelopment and wretchedness, hear if we want to hear, the unvoiced demands of those who have no voice and no hope. The pleas of those who have no voice and no hope are the voice of God.
Anyone who has become aware of the injustices caused by the unfair division of wealth, must, if he has a heart, listen to the silent or violent protests of the poor. The protests of the poor are the voice of God.
-Dom Helder Camara 1909-1999 The Desert is Fertile
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.
-Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968
Meditation Two (Insight) To Look Upon All
Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife, which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, "What else is the world interested in?" What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others.
The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too, because it is a foretaste of heaven.
-Dorothy Day 1897-1980 The Reckless Way of Love
Meditation Three (Integration) Becoming Word
Once we have heard God's Word, we no longer have the right not to accept it; once we have accepted it, we no longer have the right not to let it become flesh in us; once it has become flesh in us, we no longer have the right to keep it for ourselves alone. Henceforward, we belong to all those who are waiting for the Word. … The incarnation of God's Word in us, this allowing ourselves to be molded by it, is what we call witnessing. To take the Word of God seriously, we need all the strength of the Holy Spirit.
-Madeleine Delbrel 1904-1964 We, the Ordinary People of the Streets
The Last Word
We, the ordinary people of the streets, believe with all our might that this street, this world, where God has placed us, is our place of holiness.
-Madeleine Delbrel 1904-1964
Suzanne's Meditation A Spiritual Excercise
Sometimes, when I use the word “compassion” someone will nod approvingly and thank me for bringing Buddhism into the conversation. “Actually, I'm talking about Christianity,” I'll say. “We have compassion, too, you know.”
Now that we are on the topic anyway, in Tibetan meditation, a master will give a student a mandala. At the center (or the top – if you look at the mandala 3-dimentionally as a multi-story building rather than two dimentionally as a flat map) you see a representation of a deity. The teacher gives the student a mandala which represents a deity whose particular characteristic the student needs to develop. As you work your way to the center (or top) you meet challenges, obstacles, gaining insights through layers of meditation and experience of that mandala.
Jesus, looking at the crowds with compassion, reminded me of the deity at the top of the mandala. The trait there is never enough of is compassion. And the harvest is ripe and urgent and overwhelming.
Compassion literally means “a stirring in the bowels.” Why are we not stirred up? In this story, Jesus confers the charism of compassion upon his disciples and sends them out. Or, as I pointed out in the introduction, he sends them out in order for them to find compassion in themselves and where they fall short.
Busy human beings end up reacting to life on a subconscious level and through lenses of fear and blame and prejudices we don't even know we have. A well known heart meditation (which comes as far as I know, from a Jewish source – though it is so obvious I think it must be universal) has to do with consciously widening the circle of love.
Imagine you are in a circle surrounded with those you love. Stay there and feel that love. Then gradually widen that circle to include those you don't love so much. Embrace them in that love. You keep on going layer by layer (not in one sitting – this is a life challenge) to include everyone in the world. Add, perhaps, this abused planet itself and all life upon it. It is important at some point to take yourself out of the circle to sit outside in some outer layer.
It suddenly occurs to me that this meditation is very much like working a mandala.
Is it possible to be boundary-less in love? I believe compassion (and Christianity) – all of life - calls humanity to this.
* A more complete description of this practice can be found in Andrew Harvey's The Direct Path: Creating a Personal Journey to the Divine Using the World's Spiritual Traditions, pp144-149 although I've been guided through this meditation in multiple settings and from other sources.