There was an old woman whose only son died of a tragedy. She was devastated. She wanted to do anything to bring her son back to life. One day, she went to their community’s holy man to ask for the most powerful, effective prayer and magical enchantment for his son’s revival.
The holy man, instead of shooing her away, said, “Find a mustard seed from a home that has never experienced sorrow, then bring it here. We will use that seed to cast away the sorrow from your life.” Without second thoughts, the woman went away to find the magical mustard seed.
First she knocked on to the gates of the biggest mansion in their village and said, “I am in search of a home that has never experienced sorrow, is this the right place? Please, I am desperate to find that place.”
The family that lived in the mansion sadly sighed, “We’re afraid this is not the place that you are looking for. We are currently grieving for the loss of a family member. It has been difficult for us the past days.”
The woman felt the urge of comforting the family as she herself experienced almost the same misfortune. She stayed for a while to talk to the family and share her story. Then she went on to find that home that has never known sorrow. But all the homes she visited revealed more heart-breaking stories one after another. She was so affected. She involved herself in giving comfort to these homes just by listening to them and sharing her own story, until one day, she realized that she would never find the magical mustard seed because everybody has a cross to carry that causes them sorrow. Importantly, she realized that the more she shared herself to others, the more unburdened she felt driving away her own sorrow. ***
The story of the old woman and the readings today remind us of how it is to live for others. Often times, when we are caught in a difficult situation, such as a tragic misfortune or sorrow, we tend to expect others to pay attention to our needs. We want to be the center of everybody’s concern. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it as it is human nature to seek attention when in distress. However, too much self-centrism can lead to a much greater misfortune than comfort.
In the gospel of St. Luke, the fate of two men – the rich man and the poor man named, Lazarus – who lived in complete opposite lifestyles was revealed. “There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there used to lie a poor man called Lazarus. Covered with sores who longed to fill himself with what fell from the rich man’s table. [Luke 16:19-21]” When they both died, Lazarus was brought to heaven, while the rich man was in agony in hell. Tables have turned in terms of lifestyle for the rich man and Lazarus. During their lifetime on earth, it was Lazarus who longed to have a taste of what the rich man enjoyed; while on their life after death, it was the rich man who begged for Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my [rich man’s] tongue, for I am in agony in these flames. [Luke 16:24]”
The lesson in this parable is not merely about feeling sorry for the poor for living a less fortunate life than ours. Ultimately, the lesson is recognizing the fact that we have a just God who is observant of our response to the situations that take place in our lives – in the society where we belong. Over and again, Christian doctrine tells us that we were created out of God’s love and we exist to worship God through service (Colossians 1:16). We serve God through our neighbor. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love of God (CCC 1878). We are called to exist for and co-exist with others. It is one thing to feel sorry for the poor, and it is another thing to reach out to the poor.
The word that best describes a gesture that provokes a motivation to “be in the shoe” of another is compassion. In Latin, it literally means “co-suffering” or to suffer together. Many describe compassion as a mysterious capacity of a person to make it possible to suffer with another even if it is not his or her own. Compassion is the bond that holds every human being to each other. Compassion, however, is not to be mistaken for altruism or empathy. “While empathy refers generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. (Greater Good Berkeley Educ.)”
As disciples of Christ, we are invited to express compassion to our neighbor, as the Lord is compassionate to us. We are reminded, through the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, that material wealth on earth is temporary; we should invest in what endures even after death. Reaching out to the marginalized in the society to uplift their spirits, to alleviate their situation, is one type of investment that has an everlasting return or “ROI.”
In the first letter of St. Paul to Timothy, we, Christians are encouraged to keep the faith that we have professed; “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which [you] were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. [1 Timothy 6:11-12]” As mentioned earlier, our God is just and watchful of our actions. He “secures justice for the oppressed, sets captives free, raises up those who were bowed down, loves the just… [Psalm 146:7, 8-9]”
It is never too late to practice compassion towards those who suffer within our family, friends, workplace, community and society. No talent or special skill is required to suffer with others. What is essential is a heart that desires nothing but to uplift someone from his or her suffering. Like the old woman in the story, by sharing ourselves to others, we altogether alleviate their situation and aimlessly unburden our own sorrow. All these are possible if we exhort the Holy Spirit because our capacity to be compassionate comes from the Only Source, the Almighty Father.
Father God, I beg for your forgiveness for the times I have neglected my brothers and sisters who are suffering. Please grant me a heart that is compassionate, and a faith that never falters. I strive to live for others so that when death comes, like Lazarus, I will be reunited with you together with the angels in heaven. Amen.