Compassion is a virtue that seems to be in short supply in today’s society. But, perhaps it has always been in short supply because of unbridled ambition and a desire to obtain worldly success. With Mother’s Day recently passed, I was drawn to the story of Salome and her two sons, James and John. Their interaction and conversation with Jesus demonstrates that “compassion”, as well as, its counterpart “insensitivity” are only a circumstance apart.
Insensitivity is the neglect of compassion when a circumstance calls for it. Insensitivity preys on vulnerabilities or areas in which danger is a strong possibility and weakness in the circumstance creeps in. We can see this occurring in Matthew 20 when Jesus predicts His death a third time and the reaction to Jesus’ announcement rather than compassion among His disciples is an insensitive request for power and position. The request came from Jesus’ disciples, brothers James and John, and their mother, Salome.
Let’s take a look at “Insensitivity to Vulnerability” as demonstrated in the reading of Matthew 20 versus 17 – 23.
Theme: “Insensitivity to Vulnerability”
Matthew 20:17 – 23
17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve [disciples] aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man [Jesus and/or the name for the Messiah] will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law [Sanhedrin]. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles [Roman government and soldiers] to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he [Jesus] will be raised to life!”
20 Then the mother [Salome] of Zebedee’s sons [James and John] came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he [Jesus] asked. She [Salome] said, “Grant that one of these two sons [James and John] of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup [cup of suffering] I am going to drink?” “We [James and John] can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup [cup of suffering], but to sit at my right or left [positions of great honor] is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father [God].
NOTE: [ ] added for explanation and clarity
From the Matthew 20 scriptures we learn that at a time when Jesus was telling the disciples that He would undergo a terrible death and he was at a most vulnerable physical and emotional state, his disciples, James and John, and their mother, Salome, requested a favor from Jesus. The favor demonstrated an enormous insensitivity concerning Jesus’ impending circumstance. Jesus would be killed, but the thoughts on the mind of James, John, and Salome were selfish and shallow. They wanted power and position in Jesus’ kingdom. Their request demonstrated a lack of compassion and a lack of understanding. It also demonstrated that grown men, James and John, were still relying on their mother to speak for them.
It would be similar to telling a good friend or family member that you were dying from a terrible disease, and the friend/family member saying, “When you die can I have your clothes and car?” Such a statement indicates only an interest in appearance, comfort, mobility, and wanting something for free at someone else’s expense, rather than care and compassion.
In summary, anyone at any time can let ambition and selfishness over-rule compassion. So, listen intently and let a caring heart be your first reaction to other’s circumstances rather than “how will I be affected?” by the message you are receiving. But, as Jesus stated in Matthew 20, James and John would have their own time of vulnerability [cup of suffering] and also Salome who painfully accompanied Mary (mother of Jesus) to Jesus’ horrific crucifixion and sorrowful preparation for burial. So, let wisdom be your guide, keeping in mind that as you extend compassion to others, there will be a time when you likewise will desire to be the recipient of compassion.