Most languages of the world have their own word for it. The Zulu word for "hello," Sawubona, literally means "I see you." It is a way to acknowledge to one another that we are worth noticing, that we are more than objects moving down the street but hearts and souls and minds and bodies, carrying around thoughts and dreams and fears and memories.
In New England culture sometimes, we pass another person walking on the sidewalk and suddenly the pavement below us is very interesting. We keep our heads down.
But in South Africa, they look at each other. They smile. They nod. I see you. Sawubona.
And Sawubona is what Jesus does all throughout the Gospels.
Jesus looked at him and loved him....When Jesus saw him lying there....When Jesus saw her weeping....Jesus said to them, “Come and see...”
And in our passage this morning:
Having seen the crowds, Jesus had compassion...
Before Jesus ever moved mountains, before he healed a soul, before he forgave anyone’s sins, he saw his people and he had compassion for them.
This is the God of the burning bush, the God who described himself to Moses first not by identifying his name or credentials, but by commenting on who he had seen. Notice the verbs God uses to introduce himself at the burning bush narrative in Exodus 3:7-8:
I have seen you...I have heard you....I have had compassion for you...and I have come down...
This is a God whose eyes and ears compel him to act, to have compassion, and to come down to meet us face to face. Far from an idle idol standing by, leaving the world to spin alone on its axis, ours is the God of Sawubona, the God who sees us and hears us and acts on our behalf. I see you, he says, again and again, so here I am.
The Greek word for the compassion Jesus felt here is splagchnízomai - a bit of a mouthful when you say it out loud. Its roots come from the word for "bowel," because compassion is supposed to come from our deepest, most inward places, from our guts. It's the only way we can truly see others from their angle, from God’s angle.
This kind of compassion means having the capacity to sit with people in their fear, their grief, or their vulnerability, to let them be where they are and who they are. It is to see them fully, as hearts, souls, minds, and bodies, to get inside their heads and see the world as they see it in order to know and love them better.
My husband once described it this way. You might be looking at a collection of stars from your angle on the Earth and see the Big Dipper take shape as a constellation. But someone, hypothetically, standing on Neptune, might look at the same collection of stars and see an entirely different configuration from their angle. In the same way, we all come at life from a different angle, a different perspective, and we can only truly see someone else when we go to Neptune to see the stars from their angle instead of demanding that they stand on Earth to see ours. Sawubona.
It is not easy. When we see others in their shame or in their fear, we are often faced with our own. When we see the poor, we are faced with our own priorities. When we see diversity, we are forced to set aside our biases and see people as God does, as people he loves.
But before we can ever serve others as God does, we must learn to see people as God sees them, to awaken our compassion for them, and to act on their behalf. This can only happen fully with the help of the Holy Spirit. And it takes incredible practice. When we "rehearse" something, we get better at it. For instance, when we rehearse tragedy, we get better at expecting it. When we rehearse complaining, we can nit-pick at anything. But when we rehearse compassion, it starts to become cultivated in us, and we begin to see people as God does and from their angle. He did, after all, come to Earth to see ours.
Learning to see from another person's angle might mean drawing from our own experiences too. I used to struggle with depression and have a special compassion for those I meet who struggle with sadness. I know their angle, at least a little bit. I have friends who have given their eating disorders or addictions to God, who know now how to help others in those struggles. I know people in our church who have grieved miscarriages or infertility, who are better equipped to help those who grieve now. I’ve seen people celebrate others who celebrate, because they know what it’s like to be celebrated. They have been seen and now they see too. They have become workers in God's harvest field. They have become people of Sawubona.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
Who do you see these days? Do you see the people in front of you or do you blow right by them? Where and for whom are you feeling compassion today? How can you serve them on behalf of Christ?
Lord, grant me the eyes to see where you are at work, the ears to hear where you are calling, the heart of courage and compassion to respond. Let me see my neighbor, my friends, my spouse, my children, my parents, my coworkers--let me see them, love them and serve them as you do. In your name, Amen.
Carrots are high in Vitamin A, which is an essential nutrient for healthy eyes. Today eat a carrot at each meal as a reminder that just as we need nutritional input to see well, we also need spiritual input to “see well.”
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Mk. 10:21.
- Jn. 5:6.
- Jn. 11:33.
- Jn. 1:39-41.
- Mt. 9:36.
- Ex. 3:7-10.
- Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly.