Choose Compassion“His was a compassion of the truest sense, sincere and earnest, that revealed itself in genuine love for the lost and lonely, the shepherdless masses of His day.”
The fear gripped Deborah’s heart like a vice. The events of the past few weeks had taken her by complete surprise. How does one end up homeless at the age of sixty-six? She was embarrassed that she had not realized the precarious nature of her prior living arrangement. Confined to a small bedroom at a cost of $500 per month, at least she had a roof over her head and shelter against the elements. That was, until she confronted her landlord about missing cash and credit cards. In an act of abject callousness, the property owner kicked her out, but not before taking her cut of Deborah’s possessions. She was left with next to nothing, assigned by cruelty to face life on the streets. Sure, there’s probably more to the story—there always is— but in the moment, Deborah needed grace. Not condemnation, not judgment, not disapproval, just a little sincere compassion.
When Deborah walked into The Salvation Army, she found precisely what she needed. Captain Julia’s warm embrace portended a safe space, a place of understanding and love. Deborah was ashamed of her unkempt condition. She was shoeless, her clothes were dirty and torn, and her tattered socks scarcely covered her feet. No doubt about it, she was a disheveled mess. All the shame seemed to melt away, however, as Captain Julia’s eyes met hers. These were eyes of compassion, eyes of kindness and benevolence. Until then, Deborah had only witnessed hateful eyes, eyes of scorn and disapproval. The light found there seemed to illuminate a path forward, a road filled with hope and recovered dignity. Deborah thought to herself, “This must be a place where Jesus abides.” And indeed it was.
The gospels are replete with examples of Jesus’ compassion. The various accounts of healing, forgiveness, feeding and restoration illustrate the pure heart of the man. In Matthew 9:35-38, we’re told the story of Jesus traveling through towns and villages, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom while healing disease and sickness. The scriptures tell us that Jesus had compassion on the crowds who came to see Him because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (NIV). The Greek terminology used here to describe compassion literally means “the inward parts.” It is used 11 times in the New Testament, once literally, to give detail to the death of Judas Iscariot, and ten times metaphorically alluding to “the heart and affections.” The metaphorical usage indicates the depth of Jesus’ compassion. He felt it deep inside His inner being, in the depths of His heart and soul. His was a compassion of the truest sense, sincere and earnest, that revealed itself in genuine love for the lost and lonely, the shepherdless masses of His day. Can you imagine the joy of one whose sight has been restored or the elation of a healed paralytic? What about the beggar whose dignity was restored or the hungry child whose belly was filled with fish and bread? Imagine Deborah, basking in the light of Captain Julia’s acceptance. Just imagine…
We’ve spoken of choices over these past few months, choices that emulate the mind of Christ. But we are not simply called to act in ways similar to Jesus; we are, in fact, called to act exactly as He did with the same passion, sincerity and love, emboldened by the same power He possessed. “This isn’t possible,” you say? Is it not the same Holy Spirit that possess Jesus, meant to possess us? I submit that, although He was properly divine, Jesus’ desire to sow compassion was driven by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that intends to dwell in and control us if we consent and obey. Jesus had every right to choose as He saw fit, just as you and I do. He could have turned His eyes away from the suffering throngs, those who pined in loneliness for a single embrace or the touch of a gentle hand. But Jesus felt a responsibility for these souls. Humankind was His precious flock and He tended to them—us—as His adored children. His was an undefiled compassion. Ours can be also.
So what compassionate choices await you at the moment? Furthermore, what is your attitude toward those who need you the most? Will you fail to acknowledge the man on the corner with a cardboard sign, hiding your gaze beneath sunglasses in order to avoid eye contact? Will you choose to stand in judgment of the drug addict, the prostitute, the immigrant, the criminal? After all, they made their choices, right? Jesus behaved differently. He ate with sinners. He communed with the outcast. He loved the unloved. His compassion was unlimited and willingly showered upon society’s dregs. Such behavior is the Christian mandate. The follower of Christ who does not practice sincere compassion is a disciple in name only. Make your choice.
We thank Major Barry Corbitt for his contributions and wish him well in his new appointment. Simplehappyart & Nuthawut Somsuk via Getty Images