To See a Person
I. “Having seen him he had compassion.”
In Greek, this is two words: ιδων εσπλαγχνισθη - ‘seeing’ and ‘compassion.’
A woman named Susan taught me to see. She was sitting in her wheelchair when I first met her. Her hair was disheveled. Her hands were folded on her lap, and in that way she spent her days in silence. We were in a home for the elderly with dementia. I was chaplain and making my morning rounds when I passed Susan. Each time, we’d exchange a terse “hello” and I’d move on. Then one afternoon I decided to visit her. I chatted awkwardly about nothing in particular. She didn’t respond, and I sat a while nervous and uncomfortable. So I got up and started to walk away when Susan spoke up. Her voice trembled with emotion and loneliness: “Where are you going?” Shocked, I sat down again, and this time just took her hands and looked into her eyes. For the first time, I saw Susan. Beneath the silence, beneath the disease, beneath the brokenness, there was a person both beautiful and fully alive.
II. Jesus Christ gives us an example of how to see another person.
A man had set off on a journey. He left Jerusalem, and on his way through the desert bandits came and mugged him. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and left him half dead, bruised and bleeding. As the day went on three travelers passed by him. A priest and a Levite noticed the man first, but they rushed on uninterested. We can only guess what went on in their minds. Perhaps they were late for something important, a business meeting or a charity dinner. Or perhaps they took one look at the bleeding soul and assumed he had got what he deserved. What was he doing after all alone on such a dangerous road? If he had any sense he would have kept out of trouble. Either way, he was inconvenient. Finally, a third and very different kind of man came up the road. “Having seen him he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds.” The Samaritan bathes, anoints, bandages and, carries the wounded man off into an inn to be cared for. Then he promises that he will return.
III. This is the story of salvation.
The journey into the desert is an allegory of our fall into sin. We step away from God and find ourselves half dead on the side of the road. Then Jesus Christ comes and finds us. He bathes us through the waters of baptism and cleanses us with the oil of chrismation and the wine of His Holy Chalice. He brings us to the Inn, the Holy Church, the hospital for the sick, where we are healed and spend our days waiting for Christ’s return. Then He goes on to tell us to do likewise.
For today, I want to look at one specific phrase in this parable. How did the Good Samaritan respond when he first encountered the wounded man?
Luke 10:33: “Having seen him he had compassion” – ιδων εσπλαγχνισθη.
What we find in these two words is a vision: ‘Seeing,’ and ‘Compassion.’ This is our blueprint for how we must relate with one another.
IV. “You know me, O LORD; you see me, and you examine my heart” (Jeremiah 12:3).
It’s easy to love some people. Everyone can love their friends with similar interests or matching personalities, and especially those who make our lives easier. However, our Lord’s commandment to love everyone is much more radical and far less pleasant. Christ’s words were:
“I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what reward have you…And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
The Priest and Levite in the parable could likely have delivered a far more eloquent sermon than this one about the importance of love. But when it comes down to the drug addict, the drunk, the neighbor who plays his music too loud, or the social misfit our lessons about love are put to the test.
So how are we supposed to love?
V. You begin by seeing.
This sounds simple, but it’s actually the step we forget most. You can’t love someone until you first see him.
You want to know what was so beautiful about working with people with dementia? So often, we define a person by what he or she does, one’s accomplishments, prestige, knowledge, or good looks. When dementia sets in, all those façades crumble. Layer after layer is stripped off and you find yourself with a person. That’s what Susan taught me to see. She trusted me to look in her eyes and I discovered humanity, as vibrant and whole as anywhere. We have to take the time to stop, abandon expectations, and simply see another person for a person. Then and only then can we begin to love.
A psychologist named Carl Rogers once put it this way: “When I walk on the beach to watch the sunset, I do not call out 'A little more orange to the right, please,' or 'Would you mind giving us less purple in the back?' No, I enjoy the always different sunsets as they are. We do well to do the same with people.” My dad was king of cheesy phrases, and they used to drive me crazy until I grew up and started using them myself. More than once I heard him say this, “Hurt people hurt people.” This is far truer than we’ll ever know. How do you love someone who hurts you, who disgusts you, who embarrasses you? Think twice. They hurt you because they were first hurt. Beneath that hurt is a living soul needing to be seen. If we can only slow down and see.
VI. “Having seen him he had compassion.”
The Good Samaritan saw the person bruised on the road. He took time to notice. He brushed aside the temptation to judge, to criticize, and condemn. Then, he had compassion.
The word ‘compassion’ in Greek is εσπλαγχνισθη. There are two parts of the word. First, it comes from the root σπλαγχνη, which literally means the guts or bowels. To have compassion is to be moved in the gut by the sight of suffering. This is wired so deeply in us that it often surpasses reason. I’ve known a few people with such deep-rooted compassion that they go out of their way to help small, wounded animals. One can intellectualize all day, but when it comes to suffering, it’s a gut thing. God put in our hearts a sensitivity, a way of knowing at gut level, which is far deeper than the mind. This is compassion. The second part of the word εσπλαγχνισθη. has to do with action. One dictionary defines compassion as “that human disposition that fuels acts of kindness and mercy. Compassion, a form of love, is aroused within us when we are confronted with those who suffer.” Compassion is two-fold. It involves the ache in the heart and the determination to help.
VII. He saw him. He had compassion.
Two words which say everything. This is our God. He doesn’t judge you for what you’ve done or how you feel about yourself. He sees you for who you are. He looks in your heart and sees the man or woman whom He loves and treasures. This is also our vision as Christians. It’s our guide. Here in the pews and at coffee hour, while shopping in the grocery isle, on the phone with the sales agent – the person directly in front of your face is the man on the side of the road bruised and broken. Stop, see, and have compassion.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.