Jesus leads the way – compassion and service

My sermon this morning began with a very simple reflection on words from the tenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, where the writer points out that Jesus was leading the way.

He walked ahead of his disciples

He set the pace.

He gave direction.

Not only did he lead them – more important for the gospel writer, JEsus leads them toward Jerusalem. Jesus leads them toward his own suffering and death. And so as he leads them, he leads them not only to his own suffering and death, but leads them to the way of humble service in which they are to live.

As he says to his disciples, in the midst of their dispute about who will be the greatest: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In this sermon I offered the example of an unnamed German woman, who offered compassion and care to a downed Canadian fighter pilot in the second world war – he was injured, muddy and bloodied. She embodies the compassion and care and service that is the truly human way – a way embodied and established through Jesus. Here is a passage I quoted at length from a news article that describes the German woman’s care for the pilot:

I was a total mess, he says, and he didn’t really care whether he lived or died since he felt like he was already dying anyway. But a German farmer’s wife, some middle-aged lady, she cared whether he lived or died and she took a shot-up enemy fighter pilot who was dumped on her doorstep by two German soldiers and cleaned his wounds.

Washed his entire body like she was washing her own son, Mr. Johnson says, like it didn’t matter one slice that old Johnny boy had spent the war taking out “German targets” and killing God knows how many Germans along the way with his Hawker Typhoon fighter plane.

“What gets to me, what really gets to me,” Mr. Johnson thunders, in a voice made for radio even though he sold insurance for most of his post-war life, “is when people go on about the German people and how awful they were. Yes, there were the real Nazis and the Gestapo, and they were nasty pieces of work, but the ordinary Germans in the countryside were just like you and me — and I don’t think they really knew what the hell the war was about.

“I was freezing the night I got shot down, see, and the German soldier guarding me hands me a bottle of Schnapps — and brother, I wasn’t cold after that. Ernst was his name. He wrapped me in his great coat. He gave me his own bedroll. The next morning they take me to the farmhouse.

“And this woman, she pulls back an eiderdown bed cover and there are these beautiful white linen sheets, on a beautiful bed, and the [soldiers] just threw me on it. I was bloody. I had muddy boots on. And this lady, she took my boots off, undressed me and she kept talking to me, and she gets a big bowl of hot water and cleans all this mess off. She bandages my hip and then, if you can believe it, she washed my face, my arms, my chest — everywhere — and left me lying there on that beautiful bed.

“Now, why would she do that? I was the enemy. And to this day, sitting here talking to you, I still can’t get over it. Then she goes downstairs and comes up with a big bowl of stew and every time I have chunky soup for lunch I picture that nice German lady. I picture her clear as day. Jesus. She was a wonderful person.”

Jesus leads the way into resurrection life – which is the way of service and compassion. His way is embodied in this unnamed German woman. The original National Post article can be found here.

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