Heroes Part 3: Compassion
On Sunday 11th August we continued our series 'Heroes' with the topic 'Compassion.
You can listen to all three parts of our talk by clicking here, here and here.
Below is a summary of the talk.
I have lots of heroes and one of them is Mother Teresa. I just think she was such a shining example of compassion and the more I have read about her the more impressed I am by her. She felt called to serve God at an early age and joined a Catholic order of nuns based in Ireland before being transferred to India.
There she taught in a high school overlooking the slums of Calcutta and after twenty years of teaching she felt that God was calling her to leave her order to go and work among the poorest of the poor on the streets. She gave up her meagre possessions and set off with five rupees, giving four away to the poor and the last to a priest who was collecting for a church project. Later the same day the priest found her again and told her a man who had heard about the work had asked the priest to give her some money – 50 rupees!
Some of Teresa’s students wanted to join in her work and she founded the Missionaries of Charity. There were four requirements to join – the ability to learn, good health, common sense, and… cheerfulness! I love that requirement for cheerfulness - Mother Teresa insisted that smiling makes us more holy! “Let us always meet each other with a smile,” she said, “for the smile is the beginning of love.”
Teresa believed that when she touched the diseased, the filthy, the lowest of the low she was touching the body of Christ “in his distressing disguise” recalling how Jesus had told his disciples that when we help the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger the unclothed, the sick and the imprisoned, we are helping him. You can read about this by clicking here.
There are great stories about her incredible generosity and determination as for decades she selflessly gave to those in need around the world, setting up homes and hospitals for lepers, children and the dying. One story tells of the Pope deciding she needed a car only for Mother Teresa to promptly raffle it to raise money to build a rehabilitation centre for lepers. Later in life she was awarded the Nobel prize for her work – she used the prize money to build a hospital.
I once heard a preacher talk about her being at a Presidential prayer breakfast and speaking – controversially – about how instead of aborting their unborn babies, women should give them to her for adoption and she would take them. Nobody could say a word against her because in her integrity they knew that when she said she would take the children in, she really would!
In the Old Testament part of the bible there is the story of another woman who, like Mother Teresa, is a great example of compassion and determination. Her name is Ruth and her name actually means compassion and mercy. The word “ruth” is an archaic one but we still find a word that derives from it in common use – that is the word the “ruthless”, which simply means “ruth-less”; the absence or complete lack of that quality of compassion and mercy.
In the bible, Ruth was the daughter-in-law of a woman called Naomi. Naomi and her husband lived in Bethlehem but hard conditions had seen them move to the land of Moab – traditionally the Moabites and the Israelites had been at odds with each other. Nevertheless, the couple settled there with their two sons, who eventually married Moabite women – Ruth being one, and Orpah being the other.
Sadly, along the way Naomi’s husband had died and then, later, both her sons died too! These tragedies were terrible news for all three women of course, but especially for Naomi who as an older widow had little chance of marrying again and now had lost her sons as well. In those days being a widow, without sons to provide for you, was a truly desperate situation.
Feeling the pain of her situation, Naomi decided she had no choice but to return to Bethlehem, with little or no prospect of anything but a miserable end to her days. She didn’t want Ruth and Orpah to suffer with her so she insisted they should stay and make a life for themselves. You can read what happens next by clicking here.
Ruth strikes me as a deeply committed and determined woman, as well as a compassionate one who refuses to give up on Naomi and sticks with her no matter what. I encourage you to read the rest of her story – the book of Ruth is only a few pages long and it’s a cracking read!
Spoiler alert – things end well for Ruth and Naomi, thanks to their helping each other and thanks to the intervention of a kind distant relative named Boaz, who eventually marries Ruth and provides for both her and Naomi. Boaz and Naomi would go on to have children and were actually the great grandparents of King David, and from his line of course Jesus eventually came into the world!
As I consider Ruth and Mother Teresa, their common characteristic – compassion – is pretty clear to see, as is their grit; that is, their determination to remain committed and true to their cause no matter what! There is another parallel I notice, however, which may be less obvious.
In Ruth’s story, we find her “gleaning” in the fields belonging to Boaz. God’s law made provision for the needy, in that those who had such fields were obliged to make sure that some of the crops were left un-harvested, so that those in need of food could come and “glean” – that is gather what remained, what had been left behind for them to find.
Boaz was a godly man and compassionate – he made sure that Ruth had plenty to find and gave her more besides. More usually, what was left behind would be on the margins of the field, perhaps damaged by the worst of wind and weather (unlike the crops that were sheltered in the middle). Perhaps some of the crop was left behind because it wasn’t the best, or had been dropped or trampled on.
It strikes me that Mother Teresa, out of her love and compassion, spent her life “gleaning” too. That is, she would work to gather people from the margins – those damaged by circumstances, those overlooked and in poor condition or trampled upon and left behind as useless.
I wonder if there might be some people in your life that are on the margins and perhaps overlooked, stepped over, trampled on? Might you glean, from the love in your heart, some compassion (ruth) for them? How might you help them?
Then again, is there someone in your life who might be your Naomi or Ruth? A particular person that you, out of love for God and compassion for them, give your determined help to, long term, as Ruth did for Naomi and Boaz did for Ruth? Or maybe you need to recognise those whom God has sent to help you – and accept their help.
I encourage you to give some thought to this. Who can you glean some compassion for – and who might you give dedicated, long term commitment to? Who is your Naomi? Who is your Boaz? And who is your Ruth?
1. Imagine you were in Ruth’s situation as Naomi urged her and Orpah to leave her and get on with their lives. How would you decide what to do? Would you involve God? What do you think the right thing to do would be – and do you think you’d do it.
2. Mother Teresa said; “Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.” As you consider the people or groups of people you personally know about (locally or globally) who are on the margins of society, can you (will you) glean some love and compassion from the fields of your heart for them? What might your service – your love in action - look like?
3. Mother Teresa also said; “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” She also stressed that the greatest hunger was the hunger for love. If you, for whatever reason, find it difficult to feed – or love – lots of people, then who might your “just one” be?