6th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Lev. 13:1-2,44-46; 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1; Gospel Mark 1:40-45
Compassion - Our Hardened Hearts?
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 11 February 2018

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when Jesus cured the leper, out of His deep Compassion for him, we are not surprised at all because throughout the Gospel, whenever Jesus was amongst the crowd, and whenever people came to Him in faith to ask to be cured, Jesus never failed them. 

However, in being so blessed by Jesus who is filled with deep Mercy and Compassion for us, let us remember too that when Jesus turned away from those who asked Him to perform miracles, it was because these were the crowds who have no faith that Jesus is their Messiah and they were actually insulting and mocking Him in their hearts, and treating Him like any magician who were there to amuse them. 

And so, let us all then remember, without any doubt, that the same Jesus who cured the sick, expelled demons from those who were possessed, even raised the dead, and showed His deep compassion for all who were suffering is also the same Jesus who is amongst us and is present to us in our daily living.  This same Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, is in our hearts, homes and lives, and He will continue to show us His Merciful Love, each time we go to Him in faith for our needs. 

There is a story of Tim who was very successful in his career and business and was happily married.  However, not long after his marriage, his quarrels with his wife became more frequent, and it got worse over the years.  Their only son David was so deeply affected by what was happening at home, began to mix with bad company and squandered the family’s monies on immoral and irresponsible living and lifestyles.  Tim was so angry with his son David that he cut off all payments for the credit cards.  David then got into worse troubles; he was being arrested and jailed for his crimes, and giving his family a bad name.  David eventually, stopped contacting his family.  Tim was deeply saddened, but felt that he did the right thing in stopping his payments of his son’s credit cards.  His wife eventually also left him. 

One day, as Tim was at home on a weekend, the doorbell rang.  When he opened the door he saw a beggar, looking very depressed and smelling of drinks, looking like he had not bathe for weeks.  The beggar asked Tim whether he could spare some cash.  Tim was furious at the beggar. He took out $2 and shouted at him, “Look at you . . . drinking at this time of the day . . . I shouldn’t even be giving you this money because you would surely be going for more drinks. . . The beggar, took the money and before he could say anything, Tim slammed the door at his face . . .” 

The next day, the doorbell rang again, and as Tim was not expecting any visitors stomped to the door and muttered to himself, “I am sure it is that same beggar asking for money again . . . they are just too lazy to work and hoping to get easy money for more drinks.”  To his surprise, it was a police man at the door.  They showed him an identity card and asked him, “Sir, is this your son?”  Tim immediately recognised David, whom he had lost contact for many years, exclaimed, “Yes, he is my son, where is he?”  “Sir”, the police man said, “I am sorry to say that he is dead; he took his own life yesterday . . . Can you come to identify his body and we need to ask you some questions.” 

While Tim got into the police car, the police man handed him a letter.  It was a letter from David, and was written to him before he took his life.  Tim read the letter with fear, sorrow and guilt.  David said, “Dad, I am David your son.  I know you are so ashamed of me . . . I was the beggar, you turned away when I asked you for some help, yesterday.  I had actually, wanted to ask you for your forgiveness, but you had no time for me . . . I am sorry, for causing you all the hurt and shame.  I did all the wrong things in life because I could not cope any more.  I was trying to speak to you and to mom, but both of you refused to listen to me.  The pain was too much for me to bear . . . I am sorry for all the hurts I have caused you . . . and I don’t deserve to be called your son.  Still it was my hope that you would have just listened to me and shared my pain . . . and not judge me so harshly and coldly . . . even though I know you are so ashamed of me . . . signed, David, your son who failed and shamed you.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, what happened to Tim, his wife and David their son, is a story that in many ways mirror and remind us of the pain and brokenness of families and relationships in our societies and in the world.  While the pain and suffering that Tim went through is so traumatic . . . he need not have lost the sense of compassion for his son . . . surely, there are many ways of reaching out to a son (or anyone who has hurt us), in some constructive and compassionate ways?

In today’s Gospel, when Jesus cured the leper, the leper was a symbol of the eyesore and the marginalised, the poor and sick who are considered the “untouchables” of society.  David in our story, as a great shame to the family, is also considered an “eyesore” beggar, a useless person who indulged in immoral living and a criminal affairs.  If only David, was treated with compassion David’s life could have been saved; if society were to treat who are hurting and homeless with a warmer heart who probably have similar crises like David, our society would be a more respectful, wholesome and humane community.  

If we reflect on our own experiences of compassion, we will realise that ultimately, we cannot call ourselves a true follower or disciple of Jesus, unless we have “compassion” in our hearts.  This is because the central meaning of our Christian faith is to love God wholeheartedly as Jesus has shown us, and also to love our neighbours, with the same heart that moves us to love Jesus. 

Jesus’ Compassionate Love that mirrors His Father’s Love is expressed very clearly and beautifully in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15; the well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son.  The Parable is more appropriately described as the Parable of the Unconditional and Compassionate Love of God our Father for all who are suffering and who have sinned against Him.  We can see how Tim had treated David, in exactly the opposite of what God our Compassionate Father would have treated him.

Jesus more specifically in Mt 10:40-42 says profoundly to His twelve apostles, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes Me; and those who welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me.  Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet’s will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man because he is a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.  But, if anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, I would like to highlight a few key points for us to reflect on when we return to our homes, as time does not permit me to elaborate these points:

  1. Jesus in the Gospel always reminds us: if we are to receive the Mercy and Compassion of God, then we must be compassionate to others.  Let us recall the striking Parable of the Forgiving King whose servant he had forgiven, and equivalent of say $2m (today); where there was no way he could have repaid his debt to his King.  However, when he then met someone who owed him some $200 he refused to forgive and show any compassion to him, and demanded full payment.  When the King came to know about his, he summoned this wicked servant and threw him in prison until he paid up his debt . . .

  2. The main hindrance of showing Compassion:  Pride that seeks justice; wanting to get even when someone hurts us, especially when our ego is being wounded . . . we seek justice and worse still revenge with a heart that is cold and calculative . . . without any sense of compassion and forgiveness.
  3. Prejudices that form in our hearts when we experience pain: as in the case of Tim . . . the pain and shame he suffered through David his son, numbed him and robbed him of his compassion and eventually hardened his heart to treat his son like a stranger with no compassion . . . and (Tim) failing to see that he has primarily contributed to his son’s problems and pain . . . For us to show compassion, for Tim to recognise his own failings and sinfulness, TIM needed the gift of HUMILITY . . . to recognise our own sinfulness, and through such humility, then be open to receive God’s Mercy and forgiveness. . .  

(Adapted from: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; compassion)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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