March 13, 2020
11 I have cried until the tears no longer come;
my heart is broken.
My spirit is poured out in agony
as I see the desperate plight of my people.
Little children and tiny babies
are fainting and dying in the streets.
12 They cry out to their mothers,
“We need food and drink!”
Their lives ebb away in the streets
like the life of a warrior wounded in battle.
They gasp for life
as they collapse in their mothers’ arms.
13 What can I say about you?
Who has ever seen such sorrow?
O daughter of Jerusalem,
to what can I compare your anguish?
O virgin daughter of Zion,
how can I comfort you?
For your wound is as deep as the sea.
Who can heal you?
Last week we spent time lamenting our personal grief. We talked about our response of confession—acknowledging the truth of our sorrow and sin, as well as the confession of the nature of God. Today’s lament is not the expression of personal grief or tragedy. Instead, it’s mourning the plight of others. With this type of grief, unless you are the cause of someone else’s devastation, confession isn’t really the appropriate response. Faced with widespread starvation and death, the author of lamentations faces a similar challenge, asking in verse 13, O virgin daughter of Zion, how can I comfort you? For your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you? In other words—how do I respond to what I see in front of me? I can’t ignore it, but the wound is so deep it feels hopeless. How about you? When you look around at your family, your workplace, or your city, is there a brokenness that you mourn? For some, it’s human trafficking. For others, issues of mental health or poverty can’t be unseen. How do we respond to such massive and complex issues?
First, as we’ve said over and over in this series, we take it before God. It is good and right to “cry until the tears no longer come”. We can allow our hearts to be broken. There’s also a Lenten practice we can engage, and it has a two-fold benefit. Acts of compassion are a key part of many Lenten traditions. The first benefit of compassion is pretty obvious. If we are somewhat smart and even minimally resourced, we can make a material difference in someone’s life. We can give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, or opportunity to those who have none. If the church took seriously the mandate to do these things, even with no other benefits in the mix, we would see a powerful impact. Remember though, how an act of compassion has two benefits? The second benefit of acts of compassion is just as powerful as the first. Giving transforms the giver. In light of gigantic injustices like global sexual exploitation, our individual efforts can feel like a literal drop in the ocean. At the same time, it can create a tidal wave of transformation in our hearts and lives. If we allow ourselves to see needs, if we allow ourselves to be moved by compassion, on that foundation, God can begin a work that transcends our ability to meet material needs. You see, societal injustice has sin at its root. Greed contributes to income inequality. Lust drives a multi-billion dollar sex industry. Attacking only the symptoms of these sins is like chopping the head off a dandelion. If the root is intact, new flowers will continue to form and spread additional seeds.
Engaging in acts of compassion both chops of the head and digs at the root of sin. If you, like the author of Lamentations, find your heart breaking at an injustice, don’t be discouraged by your small efforts. See those acts as both externally and internally transformational. Trust that as you are being changed, God will give you opportunities to demonstrate that internal transformation and enact an even greater good.