Crowds, Compassion and CoronaRichard Lundie
Jesus shows us what compassion looks like in times of crisis
Picture this for a moment: Jesus is ministering and teaching. There have been many healings, sins forgiven, and there is a large following of Jesus from all different parts of society. It is just before his triumphal entry, and we find Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd gathering around him:
29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matthew 20)
No doubt these two blind men were looking to have their needs met. At the same time, however, there was this large crowd around Jesus. These men, women and children were also looking to Jesus to meet their needs. This crowd was likely made up of genuine believers, skeptics, curious onlookers and those intent on catching him saying or doing something wrong. Perhaps there were people with genuine need, seeking his help and healing. This large gathering was following Jesus, looking to get something from him.
And what is this crowd’s response to these two blind men?
31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
The crowd formed not only a physical barrier between Jesus and the blind men, but also an emotional and social barrier. I can imagine the crowd telling them to keep quiet because Jesus was giving a teaching or perhaps explaining a parable. Or they were just fed up with the noise. What we don’t see is any compassion from this crowd. It could be said that they wanted Jesus all to themselves. We must take note that the crowd would have seen or heard of other miracles that Jesus had performed. And yet they don’t consider that Jesus could or would heal these two men. In their desire to get what they wanted from Jesus, they were in the way of two men in need being in front of Jesus.
32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Jesus stops the group and calls back to the men. Imagine the tension in the crowd: they had been hushing the shouting blind men. Now, the One they have come to see and hear stops and interacts with them. The text does not tell us how Jesus and the men were close enough that Jesus could touch their eyes. Did they walk to Jesus? Did he move to them? Did someone guide them to him? We don’t know. But what must have happened was that the crowd made space for the ones in need and the Son of God to meet. The barrier of people and social exclusion was broken down. Those needing-to-be-healed was in contact with the Healer. And Jesus reached out and touched these social outcasts.
As I read this account, I am struck by some of the parallels that we face in our current reality of the Corona pandemic. The SARS-Cov2 virus, causing the Covid19 disease, has brought in a raft of changes that have pushed our society into a new, unprecedented space. Individuals, families, businesses and churches are having to ask themselves new questions about how to protect themselves from contracting the virus and prevent passing it on to others.
A quick aside: am I saying that we must imitate Jesus and touch those who are sick? Jesus was moved by compassion to heal and touch the men’s eyes. You might be thinking that I am saying that, with enough faith, we can be in contact with others and not fear contracting the virus. This is not a commentary on how Jesus healed (sometimes he touched, sometimes he didn’t), nor an instruction to copy what he did.
He is God. We are not. We are to emulate his compassion, not the methods he used in this healing.
We have medical advancements that allow us drastically reduce risk of contracting viruses. We are to take responsibility, as far as it is up to us, to protect ourselves. Significantly, we also have a responsibility to protect others that we come into contact with. We may be comfortable being exposed to the virus and believe that we will survive. It is another issue altogether, to recognize that not practicing good hygiene could pass it on to others. They may have additional risks and barriers – increasing the likelihood of a fatal outcome. If you have resources and access to good medical care, your job is to stay healthy so that you do not spread the virus. That is part of being compassionate.
What we see in this account is a contrast between the compassion of Jesus and the lack of compassion in the crowd. But what is compassion, really? The root of the word compassion is ‘com’, meaning together, and ‘pati’, meaning suffer. That is the root word of patient. To have compassion is to be a patient together with someone. Back to the text: It seems that the crowd simply didn’t have compassion for these two men. They didn’t recognize or see themselves in the blind men. They didn’t identify as people in need of healing.
And, in this time, where the virus reaches across all spheres of our society, we truly are patients together. We are to have compassion for each other. We are to open our hearts to each other. We are to help others get the care they need.
News of danger, increased risk and fear can propel people into being insular: focusing on oneself, one’s closest family and one’s immediate needs. What we can unwittingly do is be like the crowd in this account: in seeking our own needs being met, we can huddle around the source of our safety and healing, and ‘block’ others from having their needs met. It may be that we simply overlook them, or in our rush to get for ourselves (picture stockpiling food), we may inhibit others. We must recognize, too, that there are some people who need extra assistance in reaching the medical care, or prevention mechanisms. The two blind men could not, on their own, walk in the crowd, pushing their way through to the source of their healing. They needed someone with the privilege of sight to assist them, to share their space to allow them to meet with the Healer.
Being compassionate moves us to consider the lived realities of those in our sphere. As you make decisions around social distancing, be aware of who is vulnerable. Who is around you that is at risk? Who are the two blind men in your space? Who is in need, at higher risk? Who is impacted by your decisions in the short term? And the long term? Is there a way that you can assist them to get help or support?
Consider Jesus, whose compassion moved him to touch and heal the two blind men, to move you to have deep concern for those outside your immediate blood family. Allow these few ideas to propel you into exploring ways you can – with what you have – serve and journey with those who are vulnerable, at risk and isolated. Let us be the crowd following Jesus who are looking out for those on the fringes, on the edges, who need help. Let us be the crowd that makes space for everyone. Let us have compassion.