A Person of Compassion

I overheard someone say today, “Why should we help out the Filipinos?  They should solve their own problems!”   My blood instantly boiled!  I thought of Jesus, and some things he said.

“I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…  I was naked and you gave me clothing,” said Jesus.   (Matthew 25:35-36)

“And at the rich man’s gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.”  Luke 16:20

Compassion, quite frankly, is giving a damn about somebody other than yourself and your own narrow self interests.  Compassion operates on the assumption and truth that there is a whole lot more to life than just you and your desires.  Even more, compassion sees that the well-being of the other is directly tied to your own well-being.

We live in a world of greed and exploitation and, by their very nature, greed and exploitation are devoid of compassion.  When a human life lacks compassion, that life surrenders its humanity and becomes less than what it is intended to be – infinitely less.  That life, to use a cliché, has lost its soul.

A person of compassion is willing to risk imagining what life might be like for the other who is in the midst of loss and great suffering.  I don’t mean imagining just intellectually, but emotionally on a gut level, trying as best one can to climb inside of the other person’s skin and experience life from the other’s perspective.

A person of compassion is willing to sacrifice something for the sake of the other.  Maybe it is giving the money you saved up for that new iPad, iPod or iPhone and giving it to an organization that will use it to save a suffering person’s life!  In my mind, that’s what I call an incredible disproportionate exchange – an iPad for a human life!  Wow!

A person of compassion is aware that there is enough money and ample resources in this world to alleviate most of the suffering on the planet.  But a person of compassion also knows that a few control most of it, and unjust systemic economic paradigms, based largely on greed and exploitation, have it all tied up earning interest and generating more income, that will in turn be used to earn interest and generate more income, that will in turn be used to earn interest and generate more income… to infinity.      Jesus talked about this in the parable of the rich man who could figure out nothing else to do with all his wealth of abundant crops than build bigger and better barns to store it!  (Luke 12:16-21)  One translation puts it that the rich man lost his “soul.”  At its deepest level, I think Jesus meant he foolishly traded away his humanity for greed and security.  In other words, he lost his most authentic humanity!

A person of compassion is courageously willing to advocate for a more just world in the face of the powers that be who use their power to arrange things for their own comfort, security and advantage.

A person of compassion does not honor tribal boundaries, but willingly risks stepping over them for the sake of the other.  Guess what?   Jesus told a story about that too.  It’s called The Good Samaritan.  The story implies that the mugged man in the ditch was a Jew.  Two of his own, and religious leaders at that, passed him by.  It was the despised Samaritan who stopped and showed compassion.  Considering that Jews and Samaritans hated each other’s guts in biblical times, it is nothing short of amazing grace in action!  Today the characters would be different but the story line would be the same: a gay person and someone homophobic; an African American and a Caucasian; a Tea Party advocate and liberal Democrat, etc.   It seems to me that’s exactly what compassion is – amazing grace in action crossing sacred tribal boundaries!

I could go on with this for awhile, but I’ll stop here and close with a question.   “Am I, are you, are we going to dare be among those who put grace into action and risk being known as people of compassion?

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