This morning I read in Luke’s Gospel (6:36) what appears to be a direct command from Jesus to his disciples: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Many talk about the importance of the so-called “Golden Rule” and the Ten Commandments, but I think this directive, commandment, advice, or instruction (whatever you want to call it) is one of the most significant uttered by Jesus, for if taken seriously, it overrides all other commands, laws, or whatever. Be compassionate.
Compassion is to have “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.” It means having empathy (“the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”). It means caring. It means having concern (to be disturbed, troubled, perturbed, and unsettled for another). It means being sensitive, warm, tender and loving. It means mercy, leniency and tolerance. The Greek word used to describe Jesus’ own compassion when he saw the crowds, “Harassed and helpless (stressed, strained, worn out, hard-pressed, worried, troubled, beleaguered, under pressure, at the end of their rope, hassled)—like sheep without a shepherd,” literally means “guts.” Jesus’ was moved down deep inside—the deepest part of his being—in his gut.
Compassion is not giving advice to the harassed and helpless, which we are so prone to do. It is not providing answers to those who are stressed, worn-out, worried, troubled or under pressure, though we often try. It is not explaining anything, or “setting” another straight. Compassion is not even “doing something” to resolve the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Compassion is a matter of “feeling”—feeling at gut-level—feeling the pain, hurt, frustration, lostness, helplessness, of the human quandary. It means feeling, “Harassed and helpless,” within ourselves. The German philosopher, Schopenhauer said, “Compassion is the basis of morality.”
But, compassion, as I’ve described it here, hurts. “Compassion,” as Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote, “requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
Jesus says God is compassionate. He says we are to be compassionate, too.
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