Wednesday, June 6, 2007
THE COMPASSIONATE LIFE
The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.
You have a permanent place in my heart, and God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you.
You are God's chosen race, his saints; he loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.
Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another... The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had...
'Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?’ The one who took pit on him,’ he replied.
Jesus said to him, 'Go and do the same yourself.'
We love because God first loved us. If someone says he loves God, but hates his brother, he is a liar. For he cannot love God, whom he has not seen, if he does not love his brother, whom he has seen. The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love his brother also.
(Micah 6: 8, GNB; Matthew 9: 35-36, NIV; Luke 6: 36-37, JB; Philippians 1: 7-8, JB; Colossians 3: 12-14, JB; Philippians 2:1 and 5, GNB; Luke 10: 36-37, JB; 1 John 4: 19-21, GNB)
Compassion is an 'okay' kind of word isn't it? We like to think of ourselves as a compassionate people who really are mostly good, gentle and understanding. We should like to think that the compassionate life was simply the human way of living. But being human and being compassionate are not the same. All the conflict, war, hatred, injustice and oppression in the world remind us that authentic compassion is not a response natural to every human.
True compassion is tragically rare. Competition and not compassion seems to be the rule of life.
As followers of Jesus we need to hear his call: 'Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.' This is a radical dimension of Christ's call to us. It goes against our competitive nature. Indeed, we only begin to understand compassion when we understand that our Father has first loved us. Because he is compassionate towards us, we may grow in compassion and reach out to others.
Christian compassion must be more than an emotional 'gut' reaction. It is often appropriate that we feel a deep anger at the sin, cruelty and injustice in our world. But true compassion will always move from emotion to action, in the spirit of the obedient and suffering Servant of God.
Compassion must involve action, and yet prayer is central to authentic compassion for others. Prayer will lead us into the mysteries of suffering and enable us to reach out even to our enemies in compassion. Prayer calls us to be aware of the world in which we live and present it with all its horrors, violence, needs and pain to a God who is Compassion.
Yet we are always aware that the evil, failure and hurt needing to be confronted by compassion has an echo in our own hearts. Our own sin, hurt and overwhelming need constitute a painful reminder of how we, too, need to receive from lives full of compassion.
One day, the three of us visited the late Senator Hubert Humphrey to ask him about compassion in politics... The Senator, who had just finished talking with the ambassador of Bangladesh and obviously expected a complaint, a demand or a compliment, was visibly caught off guard when asked how he felt about compassion in politics... But then, after having adapted himself to the somewhat unusual situation, Senator Humphrey walked back to his desk, picked up a long pencil with a small eraser at its end, and said in his famous high-pitched voice: 'Gentlemen, look at this pencil. Just as the eraser is only a very small part of this pencil and is used only when you make a mistake, so compassion is only called upon when things get out of hand. The main part of life is competition; only the eraser is compassion... in politics compassion is just part of the competition.'
H.J.M. Nouwen, D.P. McNeill, D.A. Morrison, Compassion
The life of Jesus illustrates the three vital elements of compassion in action. The first element is true understanding...
Compassion is born from true understanding. Matthew noted that Jesus had compassion on the crowds because 'they were like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless'... Compassion means that we have two cross hairs in the sights of our understanding: the fact that people are beings created by God in the image of God and the fact that people have fallen and live in a fallen world. Where the two lines cross is the centre of the sphere of compassion.
The second element of Christian compassion is outrage. If we see what is wrong as God sees it, we will feel about it as God feels... to be moved with compassion denotes a gut reaction, an intense visceral emotion; and suggests strong anger at the situation which has reduced people to their present circumstances...
The third element of Christian compassion is identification. The Latin root for 'compassion' is parallel to the Greek root for sympathy; both refer to deep fellow feelings 'with' or 'alongside' someone. Identification is at the heart of the incarnation.
Os Guinness, The Dust of Death
Just as our neighbour is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy. Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbour through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all; that is, that we may be truly Christians.
Martin Luther, Christian Freedom
I quoted something I had heard a preacher say to Len, a Canning Town Christian. The preacher had said, 'What we want in this country is a voice.' I asked Len what his comments were. 'You'd have to have lips and a mouth and a body as well, wouldn't you?' he said.
David Sheppard, Built as a City
The bowels of compassion: a wonderful old phrase. They ought to be kept open.
Norman Douglas, An Almanac
If you think of your fellow creatures, then you only want to cry; you could really cry the whole day long. The only thing to do is to pray that God will perform a miracle and save some of them. And I hope I am doing that enough.
Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
The great news we have received is that God is a compassionate God. in Jesus Christ the obedient servant, who did not cling to his divinity, but emptied himself and became as we are, God has revealed the fullness of his compassion. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. The great call we have heard is to live a compassionate life. In the community formed in displacement and leading to a new way of being together, we can become disciples - living manifestations of God's presence in this world. The great task we have been given is to walk the compassionate way. Through the discipline of patience, practised in prayer and action, the life of discipleship becomes real and fruitful.
H.J.M. Nouwen, D.P. McNeill, D.A. Morrison, Compassion
Father, I confess my great need of your compassion. My failures, doubts, temptations and fears threaten to overwhelm me. Life seems to be a never-ending competition and I often feel as though I don't even know the rules. You understand and love me as you do all your children. Reach out to me so that in the depths of my being I may know your compassion. Thankyou that in the life, teaching and suffering of your Son I learn that you are a God of compassion.
In my mind I know that to follow you means that I must live a life of compassion. But my heart is often so hard and my body so slow to help others, even when I become indignant over their plight. Show me that it is precisely because of my poverty and pain that I may be able to help others. Just as you love me, so may I love others. Amen.
May the Father who is Compassion, the Son who is still moved by the sight of the wounded people and the Spirit who is the Comforter transform our competitive souls into compassionate lives. Amen.
High Mountains, Deep Valleys ed. Rowland Croucher pp. 71-75