Yesterday I spoke on Matthew 9:35-38 where Matthew records the compassion of Jesus Christ toward the crowds. After an excellent discussion on the topic of compassion last night with my small group, there are some points that I think it would be valuable to clarify from the message yesterday.
First, I think it is valuable to be sure that we define compassion in terms of relationships. There are times when we do things even though we don’t feel like it (e.g. Reading our Bible, praying, cleaning the bathroom . . .) but those are not acts of compassion. Some things are valuable to do even if you don’t feel like it.
I think what was most confusing to people was the notion that I was asking people to let their actions flow out of a genuine care and concern for people (even emotional engagement) and what they have often been told is that we should act kind, even if we don’t feel kind. dictionary.com defines “compassion” as, “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” I think this is a good definition of the compassion meant by Matthew in the passage, and therefore, you cannot have compassion without feeling, and you cannot have compassion without doing what is in your power to do to help. Both are necessary elements of true compassion.
I think true compassion flows out of a true understanding of the human condition. We will not feel true compassion until we see the genuine state of affairs like Jesus did. He looked out on the crowds and saw them as sheep without a shepherd, they were harassed and helpless. His observation of their plight led him to compassion.
But this leads to the second potential misunderstanding. If you heard me say yesterday, that you are the solution to everyone’s problems, then please let me apologize to you for that significant guilt trip. We are limited in resources, time, and sphere of influence. Even Jesus did not heal everyone who was broken during his time on earth. What I was hoping to communicate is that the more that we see people through the eyes of Jesus, the more readily we will be moved to compassion. We will FEEL correctly toward people and find ourselves READY to ACT on that feeling.
Compassion is not merely a feeling, but it is also not just an action, but true compassion is found in the balance of genuinely emotionally engaging with others and doing whatever we can to help remedy their plight. When I drive past the man holding the sign asking for money, I cannot very well call the feeling of guilt that I experience, “compassion”, but equally, circumstances may not allow me every time that happens to respond with a hand-out.
I am reminded of an old song by Steve Camp called, “Don’t Tell Them Jesus Loves Them” and the chorus says, “Don’t tell them Jesus loves them, til you’re ready to love them too, til your heart breaks from the sorrow and the pain they’re going through. With a life full of compassion, may we do what we must do, but don’t tell them Jesus loves them til you’re ready to love them too.”