Compassion is not something that comes naturally to us. And yet, when we look at both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, we are called to be compassionate people. As followers of Jesus we have no choice but to be compassionate.
In order to understand compassion and all its implications, we need to look closely at the words and actions of Jesus. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Luke that we are to “be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.” (LK. 6:36) This saying calls us to go against the human grain because it requires continuous conversion of mind and heart. It calls us to be compassionate in every thought, word and action of every day.
As soon as we realize that that our God is a God-who-is-with-us, we enter into a relationship of intimacy. The name Emmanuel tells us that we have a God who is committed to be present with us through all our human experiences. This is a close God, a God who has “lived among us.” (JN. 1:14) Christians believe that our God is a personal, relational God because in Jesus, God’s compassion became flesh and visible to us. Jesus became the concrete embodiment of God’s compassion in the world.
When we pay close attention to the words and actions of Jesus, we have some insight into the compassionate presence of our God. We know this from the way Jesus acted toward those in need. It was always a deep compassion that moved Jesus to action. Jesus’ compassion extended to the most vulnerable part of his being. It is related to the Hebrew word for compassion, rachamim, which refers to the womb of Yahweh.
The term “womb love” may sound strange to us, but we might refer to it today as a gut feeling or the deep love of a mother for the child of her womb, or an extraordinary sense of empathy for the suffering of another. It is out of this kind of womb love that Jesus acted when he experienced the suffering of others. Jesus acted out of compassion because he really became one of us, shared our humanity and suffered with us. Jesus truly is Emmanuel, our God-who-is-with-us, a God who suffers with all of humanity.
This understanding of compassion puts a heavy burden on us because we are called to be the compassion of Jesus to everyone we meet or interact with. Teresa of Avila even said we are the actual hands, feet and voice of Jesus.
In what ways do you show compassion to family and friends? How is Jesus’ and your compassion extended to those outside your social circle?