Today, I am sharing about the topic of compassion. If there is one thing that all of us could benefit from in the times in which we are living in, is the ability to relate to the needs, pain, and suffering of others. Imagine if everyone look after one another to help contribute to their wellness? How different would our shared life experiences be? As disciples of Jesus such is pur calling, to contribute to the wellbeing of others. Therefore, if there is one character trait that ought to be a distinguishing mark of Christian living, that would be compassion.
What does the Bible teach us about compassion? The Bible is filled with stories of compassion in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, but Jesus is the one that gives us a clear path for what that means.
In Matthew 14:13-21, we find the miraculous story of Jesus feeding thousands of people. This story teaches us about the character of Jesus and his compassion. Here is the story,
“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
Matthew tells us that Jesus was moved by compassion when he saw the great crowd following him—being tired and hungry without a place to rest and be fed. Here, we see and learn from the compassionate side of Jesus.
What is compassion? Compassion alludes to kindness and sympathy, but there is something deeper, something even more profoundly powerful in its meaning. The word “compassion” means “to feel with.” When we have compassion for someone, we try to feel what they are feeling, meet their needs, and heal their pain.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained it this way, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
In short, compassion means someone else’s heartbreak becomes your heartbreak. Another’s suffering becomes your suffering. And, ultimately, compassion changes the way we live in relation to those around us.
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest who has done much to deepen many people’s understanding of ministry, wrote a little book just a few years ago and called it “The Wounded Healer.” Nouwen says that Christ heals our pain and binds up our wounds not just by saying something superficial like, “So you’ve got it bad; I’ve got it bad too, tough luck, fella.” Christ does not heal by some sort of me-too-ism; rather, says Nouwen, “He deepens the pain to a level where it can be shared.”
Jesus’ compassion does not stop at just knowing, feeling, and sympathizing. Rather, compassion moves him to the very depths of his being to take the most extraordinary action: to relieve the sick and suffering.
Consider this, at that cross, if we look closely and pay attention to what is happening to Jesus and why it is happening to him, we could see more than just an innocent broken man who his enemies have mauled; instead, we see an impossible act of love and compassion even for those that were enemies. If there is one thing we can surely learn from the experience of Jesus on the cross, it is that God cares for everyone and comes and shares our brokenness and is broken himself alongside us. We can see how Jesus deepened our pain to a level where he completely shared it with us.
How can anyone be Christ-like in such a manner? How can anyone have such a kind of compassion? I must admit that when I look at myself, I realize that I do not have enough Christ-like compassion for people. It is not because I do not care, but because I do not always do what I know I need to and can do for others.
Can you relate? Do you always do what you know you can or need to do for others?
In her poem, The Sin of Omission, Margaret Stangster expresses my experience (and perhaps yours too) quite well. She wrote,
“It isn’t the things you do, dear; it’s the things you leave undone, which gives you a bit of heartache at the setting of the sun. The tender word forgotten, the letter you did not write, the flower you might have sent, dear, are your haunting ghosts to-night.
The stone you might have lifted out of a brother’s way; the bit of heartsome counsel you hurried too much to say; the loving touch of a hand, dear, the gentle and winsome tone, that you had no time or thought for, with troubles of your own.
For life is all too short, dear, and sorrow is all too great; to suffer our great compassion, that tarries until too late. And it’s not the thing you do, dear, it’s the thing you leave undone, which gives you the bit of heartache at the setting of the sun.”
I am sure many of us here would also share these sentiments. It isn’t the things we do that trouble us, but the things we leave undone. I hear about this often from people that have lived a long life and they regret not having done more for others.
For example, imagine Jesus for a moment not feeding the hungry or giving rest to the heavy burdened. Picture Jesus no healing those that came to him for mercy. How different would this world be without a compassionate Jesus that did not act on his love for us? What if Jesus left things undone? What if Jesus left us undone?
A frightening thought, for sure. But what about us? What are the things that we leave undone? Who are we not talking to or calling to check on them? Who needs us, yet we ignore them? What have we not provided or helped with knowing that we could make the world better for other people, but we are undecided to do so?
Let me tell you that compassion not only benefits others, the recipients, but often even more so to the givers. When we live a life led by compassion, we become healthier, happier, kinder, and overall just good people. If we are moved by compassion in this life, our hearts will be whole and never undone.
This is hard, I know. It is a challenge to live like this in such a threatening world. But let us not be downhearted by the challenge of being compassionate and kind to others—particularly those with whom we have differences. This is a life-long process. And the thing about compassion is that it is not learned from a book but from life experiences.
I can tell you that the most compassionate people I know are the ones who have had their share of suffering in this world, yet they did not become bitter, resentful, or vengeful but compassionate. I am sure you know people like that; they have been kind, patient, and generous with their time and energy to support you when you were in need, perhaps even when you acted like an enemy with them.
The apostle Paul speaks of this kind of people and provides a description of their compassion and so we too may live by it. He says in Philippians 2:1-5,
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”
My friends, to live in compassion is to move into a deep commitment to our faith. Being compassionate is one of the marks of Christian living, of faithful discipleship. It is more than just being sympathetic toward the needs of others. It is actually doing something to meet those needs.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be Christ-like, a wounded healer, one who, like Christ, identifies with human pain and becomes a channel for its healing—not doing anything for selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regarding each other as better than ourselves.
We have been recipients of a level of compassion that we have yet to understand, but we can pass on what we do understand. So, the invitation today is to do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.
Just as Jesus did not leave anything undone, let’s not leave anything undone either.