Thursday, May 20, 2010

Compassion

I have written several blogs about compassion, so bear with me here, I may repeat myself. I can't help it. I guess it keeps coming to my mind and my heart because compassion is so important to me. It is central to who I am. It is really hard for me to accept it when I see heartlessness and lack of compassion in the world.

 It just seems so wrong, and unfortunately I think it is indicative of the Me, Me, Me nature that so many Americans possess. It saddens me to encounter people who would kick a person when he is down, or ignore him all together, rather than help him simply because "It's not my problem that he made bad choices." I have to shake my head and wonder what makes someone feel so superior to his fellow man.

I know that the whole world is not Christian, but I am, so I look at every situation through that lens, so bear with me again as I use Christianity to illustrate my point. A superior attitude flies in the face of everything that Jesus stood for.

 There are numerous examples in scripture of Jesus' compassion for all people. Many times he warned his followers and religious leaders around him against piety and superior attitude. He demonstrated with his words and his actions that being his follower was about humility, not superiority. Why did Jesus do this? After all he was the Lord of Lords. The whole world belonged to him.

 Why should he care about people who just kept making bad choices? It wasn't his problem that the people of the city were about to stone a woman for adultery. She made a bad choice and committed a crime. The punishment was simply being carried out.

 So, why not just let justice prevail? It wasn't Jesus' problem that the people who came to hear him teach didn't bring anything to eat. They may have been just a bunch of beggars anyway. Everyone should work hard and then they would be able to feed themselves, right? So why not just let them go without? To teach us lessons, that's why he stepped in at those moments.

One of the main lessons we should take away from the life of Jesus is this: We are all a few bad choices away from doom. Doom can mean a lot of things; homelessness; welfare; addiction; poverty; death. We have no right to feel superior to any other human being on the planet because "There but for the grace of God, go I.".  Grace is something given to us that we do not deserve.

 Yes, we may be in better circumstances than our neighbor, because we were smart with our money; we went to college and got a good education. Our own choices, our stations in life, should not keep us from showing compassionate hearts towards those who didn't make the same choices. The fact that we are in a comfortable station in life simply means we were in the right place (figuratively) at the right time and made the right decision, or, dare I say, grace was extended to us at just the right moment.

Our lives could easily go the other way, and once we make one wrong choice it takes us farther from that right place, and it becomes harder and harder to make the good choices that would bring us back to where we ought to be, so we just keep drifting down the path of wrong choices. We need something dramatic to happen in order to turn our lives around at that point. It is not as easy as making one better choice. It is a process, and that process requires help and guidance in order to work through.

Help never comes in the form of condemnation. We can't be shamed into making our lives better. When we encounter disapproval and condemnation time and again, we start to think there is no use in trying to make our life better. People around us have told us in word and deed that we are worthless, so why bother? And the cycle continues. Generation after generation of people are deemed worthless by those who felt smug and happy with their own life choices.

Quite frankly, a lack of compassion makes me sick. Congratulations to anyone who has never made a bad choice in their life. Whoop-de-freaking-do. I think these people are the ones I feel sorry for. They go through life, hiding behind their masks of superiority, not deigning to touch the unclean rabble in the streets below their diploma and book lined offices, thinking that the check they wrote to the charity or the money they put in the offering plate at church means they are compassionate. They are not.

Compassion comes from humility. It comes from a place in our hearts that tells us that we are a few bad choices away from doom ourselves and that knowledge allows us to see inside the dirty beggar; the strung out addict; the welfare mom.

 Inside each of the them, beats a heart that only wants to be accepted as a human being; only craves a measure of compassion. Extending a little grace and showing a bit of compassion never hurt anyone and to deny compassion to others is to deny ourselves the joy of being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in the world today. Why would we want to deny ourselves that opportunity?

~Matthew 9:35-37
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.