Posted on May 26, 2019



Today I want to take up a  common word in our wonderful English language: compassion. I was prompted to think about it when someone shared an image that almost broke my heart. It was of a derelict man, a classic street person, asleep somewhere on a cold winter day, wrapped up in rags, his hands with old gloves, and lying next to a wall, and he was embracing his old dog, also wrapped in the clothes that passed for coats, a blanket thrown over the pile, and both were asleep, the dog comforting and warming the man, and the man’s arm wrapped around his faithful companion.

One really needs to see this image to understand how it evoked in me a compassionate response far and away too strong to let go easily. I didn’t know the man, or the circumstances of the image. It was even dated from 2012 and both the man and his dog may be long gone, embraced by our compassionate God who loves us all. The picture touched me deeply, in my soul and spirit, and it got me to thinking about why.

Let’s get back to compassion. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is of course, correct, but rather cold and almost dispassionate: “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Wikipedia is a little warmer: “Compassion involves allowing ourselves to be moved by suffering, and experiencing the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it” and its etymology is from a Latin word meaning “co-suffering.”  

I especially liked this Wikipedia line: compassion is “ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in almost all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues.”

Compassion is I think a God-given element in our spiritual make up. As human beings made in the image of God (Gen 1:26 and many other verses in Old and New Testament for example), we have been given many of his attributes.

 I think the most wonderful expression of compassion is in Luke 10:30-35: Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. …”

You have to remember the bitter enmity that existed in Biblical times between Jews and Samaritans to appreciate the act of compassion by a Samaritan for a hated Jew. The Old and New Testaments are filled with Scripture describing God as a compassionate God.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…The Lord is gracious and righteous, our God is full of compassion…The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The love is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Psalms 103:13; 116:5; 145:8-9)

Of the many Bible study tools in the Web, most of them list at least thirty or more mentions of compassion in Scripture. Many of you will have your own  favorites. I like “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), and “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4: 22)

The last one I mention is from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

It speaks of sharing compassion with others, as Jesus often did with the sick and the needy during his ministry. It is a natural gift of God, put into our cache of instincts like many other “natural gifts” that are indeed part of our being created in the image of God. Another is discerning good and evil, but that for another day, although you can study Romans 1: 20-21 and Romans 2:15 for starters.

Published as “One of the greatest of virtues” April 7, 2019 in The Tuscaloosa News

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