COMPASSION comes in many different guises.
The dictionary defines it as ‘a feeling of deep sympathy for another who is stricken with misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate their suffering’, while the thesaurus likens it to ‘benevolence, empathy, kindness, mercy, charity, and clemency.
But looking at these descriptions, here is the simple realisation I’ve hit upon – there is a massive difference between feeling compassion and acting on it.
The gospel of Matthew describes Jesus feeling compassion for the hungry crowds, so he fed them; and later shows Jesus feeling compassion for the blind, so he healed them. The gospel of Mark describes Jesus feeling compassion for people who were lost, so he taught them and gave them direction.
Feeling compassion is the easy bit. It’s acting on those feelings that requires something of you.
When Jesus healed the woman with the blood disorder, it meant he was late to visit a dying girl (Mark 5:21-43). When he healed the man who could not walk, it meant breaking the religious rules (John 5:1-14). And when he forgave the woman caught in adultery, it meant he gave up the chance to win friends in high places (John 8:1-11).
There is a cost. And as we lead up to Easter we remember Jesus’ ultimate act of compassion, mercy and grace: when he gave his life so we could come into relationship with God. He had to lose everything to do this, even his connection to his heavenly father.
In that moment Jesus took onto himself everything that gets in the way of us being able to stand right before God: all the stuff we fill our emptiness with, the false identities and masks we use, all our imperfections that trip us up and hinder us from ‘standing correctly’. Jesus removed our ‘wrong standing’, and in exchange gave us his ‘right standing’ before God – what the Bible calls righteousness.
And it’s because of this ultimate act of compassion that we can be changed, to find inspiration and hope to be compassionate too. Whether people deserve it or not, whether it’s comfortable or not, even though it costs. If this is the level of compassion Jesus has shown towards us, how on earth can we not show compassion towards others?