Sermon Text: Starring Compassion
When I was 12, my pals and I sang our own version of “We Three Kings.”
We three kings of Orient are trying to smoke a stolen cigar
It was loaded, it exploded, that is how bad things are: BOOM!
Then came the second verse: We two kings of Orient are...BOOM! And the third: Me one king....BOOM! After that, we would sing, Silent night...
To us, this was the last word in Christmas comedy. The great thing is when 12-year old boys just grow up. Doesn’t always happen, but it’s a worthy goal.
The goal is to grow up, to get wiser, and to have a caring heart. And that’s one reason Matthew tells this story of the visit of the sages from the east.
Of the four gospels, Matthew’s is the most Jewish in style. Jesus has come as the promised Messiah of the chosen people, the Jews. But from the start, Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is for everybody. So right at the beginning, he tells this mysterious, lovely story of the visit of the wise men of the east.
These visitors are not Jewish. They are from outside the chosen people, outside the chosen religion, outside the chosen nation. But they are the first to recognize Jesus as king and messiah.
Which, of course, did not go over well with Herod, the Jewish king at the time, who was not so good at being Jewish. Herod was not interested in developing a caring heart. He was interested in developing plans to kill any competitors. He eventually killed some of his own sons, by the way.
Part of Matthew’s agenda here is to say, “Open up...enlarge your heart. It’s not just about the chosen people of the past. It’s about everybody. Jesus is for everybody.”
And part of growing up beyond the mindset of a 12-year old is the same. I had to learn that compassion is for everybody. It’s not just about my family or my friends or my circle. It’s not just about people like me. Compassion is for everybody.
In Matthew’s Gospel, even Jesus goes through this development. During his adult ministry, he will travel outside Galilee and Judaea, the Jewish homeland. He will go to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Nothing but pagans there. Non-Jews. Outside the chosen people.
A woman will come to him who has heard of his healing abilities. She will ask him to heal her demon-tormented daughter, someone we would call profoundly disabled in our time. At first, he will not even talk to her. But she will persist, as mothers always do.
And he will insult her. He will say, “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She is a pagan, and he will refer to her as a dog, the way other Jews of his time did. But she will come back at him and say, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.”
And Jesus will be stunned by her faith, her persistence, and her humility on behalf of her daughter. He will heal the girl. And what fascinates me is that after that, Jesus will seem more open and compassionate toward people who are outsiders. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will tell his friends to go and invite everyone of every nation to be part of the family of God. The story arc will move from just the one chosen nation to everyone on the planet.
It’s quite a journey. Jesus made it. The Wise Men from the East made it. And you and I must make it.
We are following a star. Where will it lead us?
Well, another wise man from the east named Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Say yes to the journey. Keep moving. Follow the star.
My belief is that the star will lead you and me to a deeper compassion and a more caring heart.
And I think that’s one reason Matthew tells this story of the wise visitors from the east. They were following their star. They were willing to ignore the old boundaries. They were opening their hearts to a new way of compassion.
And we can do the same.
When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Follow the star that will lead you to greater kindness, deeper compassion, and a larger heart. Follow the path that will lead you toward the light.
Follow the way that leads to Christ.