What is compassion? Is it the equivalent of feeling sorry for the less fortunate? Is it crying with someone who’s experiencing a tough time?
I’m reading the book The Backward Life by Jarrod Jones. He writes, “In the original Greek language of the Bible, compassion means ‘a wrenching in the guts.'” He mentions the story of the blind men who cried to Jesus for mercy (Matthew 20). He says that Jesus was intensely moved, saddened, and brokenhearted over the despair of these men. He healed them not because He felt obligated, but because His heart was broken by their desperation and hopelessness.
Today I read Luke 7:11-15, the account of the widow whose only child died. When Jesus saw her sorrow, He was moved to compassion and raised the boy from the dead. In other words, Jesus’ heart was broken by the woman’s desperate situation.
So what do these passages mean to me? Well, I’m challenged to evaluate my attitude towards others who are in desperate situations. For instance, this morning as our train rolled out of Kosice, Slovakia, it rumbled past a smattering of Roma (gypsy) shacks along the tracks. I’ve seen mind-boggling poverty in New Delhi, and this situation in Eastern Europe seems very similar in severity.
What was my initial response? “Oh my goodness, look at those houses. How can people actually live like that?” Within moments, my thoughts turned elsewhere. I was not moved by compassion. My heart was not broken. Shocked or appalled, maybe, but not broken.
What prevents our hearts from being moved by compassion as Christ’s was? My hunch is this – true compassion might require something of us. We might have to get our hands dirty. We might have to sacrifice comfort, or the privilege of living near family. We may have to give financial aid. We might have to re-examine priorities or undergo change, and change doesn’t always feel good.
Wow – this really challenges me. I realize that I can’t rush out and solve the world’s poverty, but I can invite the Holy Spirit to change me from within so He can use me to bring healing to the desperate and hopeless to whom He directs me. And so I pray as World Vision founder Bob Pierce prayed, “God, break my heart over what breaks Yours.”
I invite you to pray that prayer, too. Imagine what our world might look like if believers everywhere were actually moved by compassion as Jesus was.