Compassion and empathy rank fairly high on the list of traits parents hope their children develop.
As Christians, these qualities are especially important because they are at the core of Jesus’ ministry. While we often talk with our children about showing compassion and empathy for all God’s creation, this Sunday’s Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary shows Christ specifically directing these characteristics towards those who were “harassed and helpless.” In this activity, you’ll explore this Scripture reading with your children by identifying those in your communities who are experiencing harassment and helplessness and responding to their suffering.
Begin the time with your children by asking them to think about a time that they witnessed someone being bullied or picked on. Ask them to describe what happened and how it made them feel to see the person treated badly. Then ask them to share how people acted in the situation to try to stop the bullying. If no one intervened in that situation, have them share what they wish would have happened. (Note: If your child has experienced bullying and is struggling with the experience, you may want to modify this portion of the lesson. You can shift the discussion to a hypothetical situation or one from a book or movie.)
Read aloud Matthew 9:35-10:8. Before you begin, contextualize the reading for the children. Share that this story comes after several stories of Jesus healing people who had been sick for a long time and had suffered because of their illnesses. After reading the passage, “zoom in” on one key idea. Re-read Matthew 9:36 (“When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”) Discuss what “harassed” and “helpless” mean. Then, talk about ways that you have seen people in your community or the larger world be harassed or feel helpless. Share with your children that Jesus meets with his disciples following this passage, giving them the authority to care for those who are suffering as he has. Jesus’ call extends to us as his modern-day disciples.
As a family, brainstorm ways you can have Jesus-like compassion for people who are harassed and helpless. Be sure to focus in on activities that fit your family members’ gifts as well as your particular community. A few options to consider are:
- Identify the particular people or groups of people around you who are “harassed” and “helpless” by actively listening to their stories. (Here’s an extension lesson for families on listening to those who are suffering as Jesus did: https://pres-outlook.org/2020/06/do-you-hear-what-i-hear-christian-education-at-home/)
- Learn about ways others are supporting those in their communities who have been harassed. One particularly good resource for this is a free coloring book put out by Black Lives Matter in Schools. Each page features one principle of the movement along with an image for children to color. You can download this and color along with your child, talking about what each principle means to you in the context of your faith.
- Research online and in-person events happening in your area aimed at eliminating the harassment of citizens or bringing hope to those who experience helplessness. Attend an event and connect your action with Jesus’ call to the disciples to carry out the healing they observed him doing.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.