I. Frederick Buechner writes,
Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.
Someone else’s skin: What’s it like to have black or brown or white skin? Or, what’s it like to be the parent of a terminally ill child? Or the child of an undocumented immigrant? Someone suffering with severe anxiety or depression? The victim and survivor of sexual abuse?
As much as anyone could, Jesus knew what it was like to live inside someone else’s skin. The Greek verb used in today’s Gospel to describe his emotion—splanchnizomai—is politely translated, “moved with pity.” Splanchna are intestines, innards, guts. Jesus knew others’ pain viscerally. It was gut-wrenching.
II. Jesus was moved to compassion when, in today’s gospel, he saw those in need of care, of protection, of shepherding. The word, “compassion,” means “to suffer with,” to suffer together. The Eucharist trains us to suffer with others. Does this communion move us? Does it lead us to compassion? The best judge of that, of whether our Eucharistic liturgy is effective, is the parent of the terminally ill child, and the child of an undocumented immigrant, the survivor of sexual abuse, those beyond this sanctuary: those in need of care, of protection, of shepherding. Do they experience the compassion of our communion?
III. What all of us have to offer to anyone who suffers is to be there with them, to stay there with them in what might be an uncomfortable place, with nothing more and nothing less than our companionship. The apostles gathered together with Jesus. They did it all together, never alone. We, too, can offer the love of a shepherd or, at least, the friendship of a sheep.