The Great Compassion of God

MP3 Audio:  WS330309_Dn-Joseph_Compassion-of-God.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, October 20, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


Gospel Reading: Luke 7:11-17

And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her
and said unto her,”Weep not.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There are just an amazing number of things in such a brief passage of Scripture. One of the things that strikes me the most is the incredible compassion of Jesus, the incredible compassion of God.

Many reasons have been given for the wonders that Jesus worked, for the miracles He performed. Some say it was to prove who He was, so that everybody would know who had sent Him. I think that’s true. Some say it was to show His power. Some say it was to confirm that He was telling the truth. I believe all these things are true.

But those are not the only reasons.

In this passage, the reason given is because He had compassion on this mother, this grieving mother who had lost her only son.

He didn’t have to do this miracle. He did thousands of other miracles, so many that they couldn’t all be written down in ScriptureJust that fact alone should tell us that His only reason for doing it was not just publicity, just to get some records in Scripture of the amazing things that He did to prove that He was God and to prove that He was sent by God. He could have just done the miracles mentioned in Scripture and then stopped, and said, “That’s all that’s going into the Bible, so I’m done. I don’t need to do any more.” But He did thousands more. And even this one that is written in the Scriptures, the reason given is His compassion.

He was moved by her tears.

God cares about us. When you’re hurting, when you have those knots in the pit of your stomach, when you’re weeping, when you’re crying over something horrific that has happened to you or somebody in your family, Jesus sees and He is moved. God the Father sees and He is moved. The Holy Spirit sees and is moved.

Now, what does that mean for God to be moved? What do you think is easier, to move heaven and earth, or to move the Creator of it? And yet here is God incarnate, in the flesh, the fullness of the divinity dwelling bodily in Christ Jesus, and His heart is moved by the tears of a grieving mother.

He sees your tears, He sees my tears, and He has compassion.

But it’s not just the sort of compassion that gives you a twinge of pain in your heart and you say, “Oh, I wish things would go better for that person,” and then you go on about your day, and do nothing. This moved Him to take time out of His day to do something about it.

If you read the book of Leviticus you will find that in ancient Israel, according to God’s law–the same God that Jesus is–according to His own law, you could be defiled by coming into contact with a dead body, or even by coming near a dead body. If you read Leviticus and if you read Numbers, if you read the Torah, you’ll find out that if somebody dies in a tent, you don’t even have to touch the corpse. All you have to do is just go into the tent. Or in today’s terms, just go into the same house, just attend a funeral. Just go into the same room as a dead body is, and you have become ceremonially unclean, unfit to approach God in worship in His temple, until you go through a purification ceremony.

There were some of those ceremonies that would even last as long as seven days. And you’d have to have water sprinkled on you on the third day, and then on the seventh day. So some of them, it was quite a big deal.

You became ceremonially unclean if you even touched a grave stone or a human bone.

Just imagine, have you ever gone to the gravesite of a family member? Did you touch the gravestone? What if somebody said, “Now you can’t go to church, you’re unclean, you can’t approach God, you can’t worship, at least not for a few days until you’re cleansed of the defilement”?

What did Jesus do? It says here in the Scripture–and I don’t think the Word of God wastes it’s breath, I don’t think there are any unnecessary words in Scripture–it says that Jesus touched the bier, the little platform on which this dead body was laying.

What kind of compassion did He have? Do you think Jesus loved going to the temple to worship God? And yet, what is Jesus doing when He just touches this bier on which this man is laying? Is that not a defilement? Is that not making Him ceremonially unclean? Well, certainly in the eyes of the Jews of the day, it would.

But I have to wonder, how does that law apply, when the guy doesn’t stay dead?

For you see, the whole thrust of the Old Testament purification laws, were that defilement is what infects everything around it. You can guard yourself from it. You can not approach to it. In fact, if you were a Levitical priest, you were prohibited from even attending the funeral of anybody that wasn’t a very close family member. If it was your wife, or your mother, or your father, or your child, okay. “Well, I guess you can at least take part, you can be there.” But your cousin? your neighbor? “No, no, no, no, no! You are not even going to the funeral, because we can’t defile the priesthood.”

If something unclean touches something, that thing becomes unclean. And now if you touch that thing, guess what? Now you become unclean. You don’t even have to touch the human bones, just touch the gravestone. You don’t have to touch the dead body, just go in the same room as the dead body is, and now you’re unclean. The sickness, the death, the defilement, spreads out. And isn’t that exactly what happened to the entire human race and even the entire cosmos when Adam fell? That one sin, that one defilement, led not just to his own death, but the death of his wife, his children, and the death of every person whose funeral you have ever attended.

If every part of your body doesn’t work quite right, if the germs seem to like having a party inside of you more often than you’d prefer, you can thank Adam for that. That death, that defilement, just spread throughout the entire cosmos. To the extent that it’s not just people that Jesus came to save, but it says in Romans eight that the entire creation groans and cries out just looking forward to the day when God’s redemption will fully be shown. 

But it works in the other way now, it works in the other direction with Christ. For you see, when Jesus comes near the corpse, when Jesus touches the bier, when Jesus says “Arise!”, the death and the defilement don’t flow into the bier and into Christ, but life flows from Christ into the bier and into this man, and death itself is defeated.

You see, the clock starts turning back. That filthy water that had been flowing downhill is finally stopped, and the living water pushes it back, and life is restored.

You see, Jesus could not be defiled. Jesus, if you want to use this word, “infected” him with life. Defilement could not touch Christ. Anything that Christ touched was resurrected.

And so it is with our lives. You may feel like you are blocking yourself off, just trying to protect yourself from everything that assaults you. And on our own, death and defilement is something that just spreads inexorably. But the moment you call on Christ, the moment you touch Christ in prayer and in the sacraments and in worship, everything starts flowing the other direction. Defilement flees and everything is filled with life.

This passage of God’s word also shows the importance of the emotions that we ourselves have for others.

See, nowhere in this passage does it ever say, or at least never does it emphasize, that Jesus had compassion on the guy who had died. It never says that He knew him, never even suggests that that guy was a good guy; he might have been a turkey for all that we know. It says, “And when the Lord saw her”–not the guy that’s lying out there dead–when the Lord saw the mother, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Weep not.” And then He came and raised the dead.

It says nothing about how holy of a life that guy had led. It says nothing about the relationship of Christ to that man. It says nothing about him at all, except two things:

  1. He was dead.
  2. He was the son of this woman.

How was his life changed because his mother wept for him, and had compassion on him?

So it is with every person you come into contact with.

Whether it is your spouse, your child, your parent, your friend, and yes, even your enemies, do you weep for them when they are sick, when they are in trouble, when they are hurting, when they are suffering, when they die? Does your heart–do your emotions cry out, do you shed any tears that Christ can see?

If Christ were to deal in your life the same way that He dealt with this woman,
how many people would be resurrected?

Does your heart just break in angst over the compassion that you have for your children, for your spouse, for your next-door neighbors, for your co-workers, for the people that cut you off in traffic, for the people that bomb buildings on T.V., for the people that hurt you, for the people that have been kind to you, for the people that have ignored you? How much does your heart truly break for them? When nobody else is around, nobody is around to hear you say anything, nobody is around to hear you cry or not cry, are you happy? are you indifferent? or do you truly weep for other human beings?

You see, for this man it made a big difference, not that he did anything, but that his mother had compassion on him. And because his mother had great compassion on him Christ raised him from the dead.

I wonder how many situations would be changed in the lives of our entire community, if we would have a heart like this mother, that would break and that would weep over the misfortunes of others.

And then finally I want to consider a topic that is well accepted within Orthodoxy, and yet in the broader American culture is scoffed upon. And that is prayers for the dead.

Let me ask you, what was this mother doing? What was going on? She was pouring out her soul, she was weeping, she was crying, for the dead. And at that moment, what if somebody had walked up to her and said, “I understand that you’re hurting ma’am, but you can cry all you want, and you’re not gonna bring him back.”

Jesus would have said, “Wrong.”

What if somebody had said, “Don’t you know in Scripture (once the rest of it is written) it’s going to say, ‘unto man it’s appointed once to die and then comes the judgment”?

Well it does say that in the Scripture, doesn’t it? It is appointed unto man once to die and then comes the judgment. It wasn’t this guy’s favorite verse. There is truth to it. That is the way it normally works. But that’s not how it worked for Lazarus. That’s not how it worked for this guy.

Here is a Scriptural case–and also in the story of Lazarus that we read earlier this morning–there is a Scriptural case of somebody dying and getting a second chance on life.

Now, Lazarus we don’t have to worry about so much, because we know that he was very close to the Lord the first time around. We don’t know that about this [other] guy. It says nothing about his relationship with God. For all we know, he may have been a scoundrel. All we know is that his mother loved him, and wept for him, and was crying for him. And Jesus had compassion on her. And because His compassion for her, this guy gets a second chance on life.

Whatever his relationship with God was before this, do you think it is possible that he became a Christian after this? Do you think her tears might have made a difference–not just to his physical body–but to his eternal soul? Scripture doesn’t tell us one way or the other, whether he already knew God or not. Apparently, Scripture doesn’t think that’s an important piece of information.

What if this man was a scoundrel, what if this man didn’t know God, but not out of compassion for him–but simply out of compassion for her and her tears for her son–Jesus raises this man from the dead? And further, what if this made such an impact on him, as I think we can assume it would, that after this he decides that, “Jesus–I’m following that guy! He is my Lord. He is my Savior. He is God. I don’t care what anybody else says. He raised me from the dead so I am following Him.”

It just may be that the demons were working on pulling his soul down into the nether regions, into the dark places, and the tears of this mom falling for her dead son moved the heart of the Creator. 

He resurrects this boy. He gets a second lease on life, a second chance to be right with God. And it very well may be today, that this widow of Nain and her son are both with Christ in heaven. This may be a case where the tears of a mother literally changed the course of eternity for her son.

Do you believe, when you pray for someone that has died, that it can make a difference?

Or do you believe when a person dies, that’s it, there’s no more opportunity, there’s no more chances? Well, here’s a man who died, and still received more chances. 

It’s biblical. It’s right here in Scripture. Even the Protestant bibles have this story in it. If the verse that says “it is appointed unto man once to die, and then comes the judgment,
could be overcome by the tears of a mother who loved her son, then what help might you be able to affect for your own parent, or grandparent, or great-grandparent, or beloved lost uncle, aunt, or child, if you will simply pour our your heart in compassion for them?

Because if Christ had compassion on her in her tears,
will He not have compassion on you in yours?

And in this same vein of thought, what about when we offer prayers to the Theotokos, Mary the Mother of God, and we ask for her intercessions? “Well, what good would that do? What good would that do for her to pray for us?”

Well, let me ask you, if Jesus was moved to the point of resurrection by the tears of this mother, will He not be moved by the intercessions of His own mother?

If this mother’s tears could move Him to raise the dead, then when His own mother Mary prays to Him and asks for compassion, for mercy, for health, for life, for a second chance, for you or for those you love, will not Jesus be even more moved by that request?

As it says in Second Maccabees, chapter twelve:

it is a good and holy thing to pray for the dead that they may be released from their sins. (2 Maccabees 12:46)

Our God is a very compassionate God. He is moved by our tears and He hears our prayers.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, October 20, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription provided by Steven Johns.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in 2 Maccabees 12, C.S. Lewis, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Luke 7:11-17, Prayers to Angels & Saints. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Great Compassion of God

  1. tpkatsa says:

    Great sermon. I would just add that God ordained these things in the Torah about cleanless and uncleanness in order to set Israel apart as the chosen people of God among the nations of their day – special rules for a special nation in a special time and place.

  2. tpkatsa says:

    If this mother’s tears could move Him to raise the dead, then when His own mother Mary prays to Him and asks for compassion, for mercy, for health, for life, for a second chance, for you or for those you love, will not Jesus be even more moved by that request?

    Well, one more thing here. How do you answer the hundreds if not thousands of people who perhaps have prayed to Mary (or even Christ Himself) from bedside of a dying friend or relative, only to have nothing happen? Is Jesus moved by these requests? I’m finding it difficult to accept the blanket statement that God is moved by all such requests. We know, that for whatever reason, He had compassion on this woman, and for Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus, et al., but I cannot know for certain that He is moved by my request, or by your request. We can hope, and we can pray, but I am skeptical that we can know for certain.

  3. “What do you think is easier, to move heaven and earth, or to move the Creator of it?”

    Awesome! I’m so thankful for a God who cares about us.

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