Compassion, the Touchstone of the Christian Life

Compassion, the touchstone of the Christian life Taken from a Red Rock News Article Rev. Dona Johnson | July 7, 2024 Jesus’ compassion for the sick and suffering was beyond human words and our ability to comprehend. He was so deeply moved with mercy and compassion when he saw the hungry multitudes without food that he fed them. He was so moved by the leper who was contagious and disfigured by his disease that he reached out his hand and touched him. He was so moved when he heard his close friend Lazarus had died that he wept with them. He was so deeply moved by the adulterous woman who was shamed and embarrassed when the Pharisees wanted to stone her and rub her sins in her face, Jesus in mercy forgave her. Jesus also wept over Jerusalem. How often do we weep over the great cities of this country or for people in our midst who suffer and are oppressed? Do we even weep for our own communities when we see poverty, abuse, and suffering? As believers we have a special responsibility to have compassion on the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the hungry and the outcast.      The word compassion comes from the Greek noun “spalgchna,” which means “internal organs.” In other words, compassion is a gut feeling. It means a visceral, gut-wrenching, emotional response that is so strong that we are physically moved to action. It is the willingness to enter into the pain and chaos of others. It is to be fully present to those who suffer. It is every Christian’s commission to announce the mercy of God and be an oasis of mercy and compassion to others. It is the beating heart of the Gospel.      It is true that in his common grace, God enables even unbelievers to display some measure of compassion for the preservation of society. It’s also true that some people, both believers and unbelievers, seem more naturally geared toward compassion than others. But although both these points may be true, it’s crucial to understand that compassion is a virtue that should increasingly characterize all believers in Christ, regardless of personality. No Christian, therefore, can rightly say, “I’m just not a very compassionate person,” thinking that their self-assessment frees them from expressing mercy and compassion towards others.     Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What some people desire most is to dismiss suffering pretending it’s not there. Or they cast judgment on others thinking they deserve to suffer. But as Henri Nouwen says, “Compassion can never coexist with judgement because judgement creates the distance, the distinction and excuse not to enter into the suffering of others.”When Job had lost everything, his family, his wealth and everything known to him, his friends sat with him day and night for seven days and said not one word, because they saw that Job’s suffering was too great for words (Job 2:13). How can we respond to someone’s loneliness unless we are in touch with our own experience of loneliness? How can we be close to handicapped people when we refuse to acknowledge our own handicaps? How can we be with the poor when we are unwilling to confess our own poverty? Those who can sit with their fellow man, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life into a dying heart. Henri Nouwen writes, “Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears of grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.” Amen.

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