Compassion Knows No Bounds
“You’ll never meet a person you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:35-38
Jesus makes it abundantly clear to His disciples why He has such compassion for the crowds. He portrays the multitudes like harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. He used this comparison because the disciples knew fully well what it meant for sheep to be without a shepherd. For those of us who don’t spend time with sheep, we are unaware of how grave it is for sheep to be left alone. Without a shepherd, domestic sheep will die. If they fall over on their back, they can’t right themselves. Sheep are defenseless animals and are so fearful that a stray jackrabbit will cause a flock of sheep to stampede. Without a shepherd, there is extreme tension between sheep…like we see among people in our cities today. However, when the shepherd walks up to the sheep all of this stops and they focus on the shepherd. It was Jesus’ intent to help His disciples, and us, to capture the human condition without the Good Shepherd. Those in our neighborhoods, without Jesus, are in this state and it should cause our hearts to go out to them. However, it’s common for us to see them differently, as Matt did in his story.
Matt and Jourdan Svajda’s Neighborhood
Have you ever been frustrated by a neighbor? I was getting so frustrated with my neighbor’s house appearance as it sat just a short walk down my sidewalk; it was clear that he didn’t take care of his home whatsoever. This guy frustrated me and I hadn’t even met him yet! There was trash everywhere in the overgrown, weeded yard. The fence that separated the front and backyards was thrashed, and the neighbors next door were even complaining. The beat-up car in the driveway had a few flat tires and clearly had been sitting there for a long time. Needless to say, it was a mess, and every time I walked past the house, frustration grew in me as I noticed new problems compounding. His house was the only one disrupting our perfectly put together little community we lived in. I wanted to write this person off as a “lost cause” and send the city after him for making our neighborhood look bad and causing our street’s real estate values to stumble.
But then one day as I was walking by his house glancing in contempt, it was as if God had asked me the question, “Do you think I have love for this neighbor of yours?” The question immediately paused my walk. As I processed, it was obvious I knew that God did in fact care for my neighbor and didn’t judge him because of his housing situation; obviously, I couldn’t say the same. In fact, I judged and came to conclusions about his entire life and we hadn’t even met. That day I walked past his house feeling convicted as my perspective was beginning to change. I now had a small seed of compassion toward him and wanted to get to know him. Then shortly thereafter, these 4 simple words changed my entire perspective about my neighbor Omid:
“Tell me your story.”
I invited Omid over for lunch, another day for dinner, and then another day for a potluck. Before I knew it, Omid was becoming a regular as his life started overlapping with ours. I learned that he was a single, 55-year-old Iranian man with a Muslim background. He shared how economic times have hit him hard and how the city had even been contacting him with phone calls and letters about his home. Losing hope in himself compounded daily and the more I learned his story, the more I felt for him and his situation. So, I decided to do something about it.
One day as I sat on his couch I asked Omid, “Would you allow me to give you a hand around your house? I’d love to serve you and I have some friends that would as well.” His immediate response was “No,” but he also asked “Why?” I pointed out that I was a Christian and that my role in this world is to love my God with everything I have and then to love my neighbor as much as myself. I then said, “You’re my neighbor.” It took him a bit, but I got a call from Omid the next week as he accepted my offer. I shared his story with my life group, and we raised close to a thousand dollars in a couple days. So, one Sunday morning from about 7am – 1pm, our life group “skipped church” to serve my neighbor. We landscaped his yard, built him a fence, and hauled away a ton of stuff to a rented garbage bin. Around 10am Omid came up to me and said, “Matt! Why are you here?” A bit confused, I looked at him and said, “What do you mean?” “Why aren’t you at church, it’s Sunday!” I paused a second and pointed to my friends declaring, “Omid, this is the Church…”
It took him a moment to process before replying to me in a soft, humbled voice. “I’m ready to hear about Jesus now.” So, I told him my story and the Gospel story. I told him how much God loved him. Over the coming months we met weekly in our neighborhood park to read God’s word together.
The infamous Mister Rogers once said, “You’ll never meet a person you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” These words are so true. Hearing and understanding Omid’s story helped me to begin seeing Omid as a person instead of a problem. Omid even gave his life to Christ shortly thereafter. I’m so humbled that God would still use me in my selfishness and brokenness. Little did I recognize how God was already at work and drawing Omid to Himself; he allowed me to participate in His redemption story and I’m grateful for that.
A time for reflection:
Most of us can relate to Matt’s story…I know I do. Like Matt, I have made superficial judgements of neighbors based on the way they have taken care of their home or property. But when I have got to know them and hear their story, often my view of them has changed. How about you, have you made premature judgements of neighbors without getting to know them? Is the Lord asking you a similar question, like he did Matt? “Do you think I have love for this neighbor of yours?” Maybe it’s time to get to know this neighbor or even put a team together to help this neighbor with their home or property.
(Matt and his wife, Jourdan, and three kids live on the Space Coast of Florida where God moved them to live as salt and light in their community. They run a ministry called Fiducia (fiduciacommunity.com) that helps activate the everyday Christian to live out their faith where they live, work, and play. They also lead a neighborhood-focused home church where neighbors like Omid can experience being part of the family of God.)