I have been thinking a lot about compassion recently, or rather my lack of it. We live in a broken world, and many people are hurting, yet I find myself almost coasting, doing little to ease the suffering of my fellow man. Speaking of suffering, that’s what the word compassion literally means, ‘suffering with’. ‘Com’ is Latin for ‘with’, and one definition of ‘passion’ means ‘suffering’. Think Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. Now there was some suffering, in graphic form, and painful to watch.
Not long ago, I worked as a volunteer once a week for a soup kitchen serving the homeless in downtown Denver. It was hard work, but I could put my considerable cooking skills to good use to help feed the needy. Someone said to me at the time, “Well, at least you probably feel better about yourself.” I’m sure I nodded yes, but I actually always felt worse. You see, feeding a homeless person may alleviate a temporary hunger, but it does little for the greater needs of the individual. I did nothing to help with the larger, underlying problems of mental illness, addiction, lack of skills, or lack of relationship with the living God. Volunteering was good, but it was never enough, never sufficient.
Many of you probably feel the same way. We become aware of a sick friend with an acute need. We’re moved to pray. We might send an encouraging card, or maybe even prepare a meal. That’s good, but probably not sufficient. What our sick friend might need is for her house to be cleaned, or her bills sorted and paid. We return from delivering the meal, having done a good thing, but feeling bad because there was so much more we could have done.
Let me tell you about a person whose compassion is fully developed. My sister, Bev Hansen, became aware of an acute need. Our cousin, Brad Pyles, developed serious kidney disease and would die without a transplant. I, too, was aware of the need, but did nothing more than pray for Brad and his family. Bev prayed too, but didn’t stop there. I don’t know if she sent a card and I doubt if she prepared a meal (Brad and his wife Tina live in California, Bev’s in Phoenix). So despite her tremendous responsibilities as a mother with three sons of junior high and high school age, she submitted to tests to determine if she would be a good match as a donor. It turns out she was. So a few weeks ago, after months of sacrifice and preparation, Bev gave Brad the gift of life, in the form of her kidney. It was a perfect gift, wholly sufficient. Compassion incarnate.
Kind of reminds me of another perfect, sacrificial gift given some two thousand years ago… If you haven’t accepted that gift, it may be time to do so.