05 - The Savior's Compassion, Oct 12, 2014

2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Luke 7:11-16

“When the LORD saw her, He felt compassion for her.” “He felt compassion” translates a Greek word that is as impossible to pronounce as it is to translate: esplagchnisthe (esplagcnisqh).

The splagchna are the bowels, the intestines. By extension the word also denotes the lungs, the liver, the heart; in short, the innards, the guts. The splagchna were regarded as the seat of kindness, benevolence and compassion. With this word, St Luke is telling us how profoundly the Savior was moved when He saw the widowed mother. She was a widow. She had already lost her beloved husband. Now, she had lost her only son. How devastating her grief must have been. The compassion the LORD felt for her was visceral. He was moved down to His guts.

Jesus is the LORD God incarnate. The LORD is compassionate and merciful say the prophets many times in the OT. But, in the OT the LORD had no splagchna, no guts. He was not yet incarnate. When we hear the prophets telling us that the LORD is compassionate and merciful, It is easy to think of a compassion that is calm and detached, i.e., abstract, ethereal, having more the character of Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” or Plotinus’ “One” or the Hindus’ “Brahman”. To say that the LORD, the Word of God by whom all things was made, felt compassion viscerally - in His splagchna, His guts – shows how completely human He became when He became flesh and dwelt among us.

By using this one word to describe how profoundly the LORD was moved with compassion for the widowed mother, St Luke is giving us an entire theology that shows us what the true, biblical God is really like; and, he is showing us what was the real character of the LORD’s incarnation: it was a divine act of a divine love, and the visceral intensity of the LORD’s human compassion and mercy was the image of His divine compassion and mercy. That is to say, the visceral intensity of His human compassion for the widowed mother was exactly like His divine compassion and mercy. Now we see that Christ is love not only in His divine nature but even also in His human nature. It is this visceral compassion and mercy, we might say, that makes Him perfect God and perfect Man.

With this word, our Gospel this morning sets before us, in the Evangelists’ typical understated vividness, the intensity of the compassion and mercy the LORD God feels for each one of us; for, in our soul, we are each one like the widowed mother’s dead son: deadened by our sin. Contemplating this morning’s Gospel in the light that shines from this one word, we see the tender love the Savior felt for His own Mother; for, He surely saw His own mother in the widowed mother, and the grief His own Mother would experience at the foot of His Cross in the widowed mother’s grief over her dead son. In the love of the Savior for the widowed mother, and in the love of the widowed mother for her dead son, we see in this morning’s Gospel, if you will, a viscerally movingicon of the love that is the very essence of the Christian Faith: it is the love of the LORD for His Mother and of the Theotokos for her Son. It not an ethereal or detached love, but a deep and powerful love that moves us all the way down to the guts, even the deep heart. It is so viscerally strong that it will impel the Savior to suffer on the Cross for each one of us who are deadened by our sin.

As an icon of the Christian Faith, this morning’s Gospel reveals what we “signed up for” at our Holy Baptism: to be immersed in this visceral compassion of the LORD for His Mother and of the Theotokos for her Son – so that, if we have not and do not experience God’s love in its visceral intensity that lays hold of our guts, then we have not experienced the Christian Faith; and, we need to be asking ourselves, why have I not experienced God’s love like this? The answer has to lie somewhere in us because we see in this morning’s Gospel that if we would let Him, or rather, if we would mourn as did this widowed mother, the LORD would immediately act on His deep compassion for us and comfort us even to the point of touching our deadened soul and raising us up to life restored to the joy of communion with our most blessed and Most Holy Mother, the Virgin Theotokos, in the visceral love of God that abides forever!

 With this one word, I think St Luke is showing us how we can discover and begin to live in this tender love the LORD felt for His Mother and which the Theotokos felt for her Son. We need to discover our splagchnon. Transposed onto the plane of the spirit, the splagchnon is our deep heart, our inward and secret parts, in the words of the Psalmist; and we discover our inmost parts, our splagchna, as we learn to mourn our soul that has become deadened by sin as the widowed mother mourned her only son. It is this grief of a broken and contrite heart that attracts mightily the visceral compassion of the LORD toward us.

Adam was placed in the garden in order to work it and to keep it. (Gn 2:15) We know from Holy Tradition that the garden represents the heart. The work Adam was called to do in the garden was to discover his splagchnon, his deep heart. Once he had discovered it, his work would then have been to keep it with all vigilance so that from his koilia, his belly (a synonym for splagchnon), he could bring forth the living waters of the Spirit (Prov 4:23; Jn 7:38) and offer the LORD the sacrifice of praise, i.e., of love that came from the pit of his viscera, the core of his deep heart, the center of his being. But, of course, Adam never found his deep heart and so he could hardly advance to the work of keeping it. 

It was the Second Adam, the LORD Jesus Christ, who found Adam’s deep heart, our deep heart. He found it in the tomb, dead. In His visceral love for Adam, for us, the LORD became flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and united Himself to Adam, to us, at the point of our deep heart, and in the glory of Pascha, He raised Adam from the dead, rolled away the stone, and led Adam out into the garden of His Resurrection, the Garden of Eden.

That’s where we are this morning, brothers and sisters, as we stand here in the mystery of the Church, the mystery of Christ’s body and blood. In the mystery of our baptism, we have been placed in the Garden as was Adam wholly by the grace of God’s visceral love for us. That means, however, that we have work to do. It is the work of the Christian faith, the work of finding our deep heart and keeping it.

In the Church, in the body of the crucified and risen and glorified Christ, our splagchna, our deep heart, has been found. It has been found by Christ, and it is in the Church alone, in Christ alone that we will find our deep heart and keep it so that from our belly – our splagchna, our koilia, our deep heart – we can bring forth the living waters of the Spirit and offer to God our sacrifice of praise, of love for Him who first loved us.

In the Church, then, the work that we do in order to find and keep our heart, is given us by Our LORD Jesus Christ as it was given, I believe we can say, to Adam: “He would be My disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” In the Church, in the Garden of Eden where we have been placed by the grace of our baptism, we pray and we fast, we keep the commandments of Christ, we struggle to shed our vainglory and pride and to resist the temptations of the devil that we may acquire humility and find the path that descends down into our splagchna, our deep heart deadened by sin, so that we may begin to mourn like the widowed mother and so attract the splagchna, the visceral compassionof God for us, that He might touch our soul and raise us up alive in the love of God that abides forever.

Dearly beloved, we see in this morning’s Gospel what it means to find our life if we struggle to lose it in this way of the Church for the sake of Christ and His Gospel: it means to discover the visceral love of God for us in our own viscera, our own deep heart, and to experience the widowed mother’s visceral joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. My prayer is that the LORD would help me in this work of finding and keeping my deep heart. And I would love to be joined in this work by all of you. Amen!