Summary: One of the great needs in the world today is the need for compassion. Compassion has been defined as "sorrow for the sufferings of another, with the urge to help.",
Luke 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
There lived in India a well-known poet named Tagore. One morning his servant was late coming to work. Tagore became more angry by the minute as he waited for him to arrive. Finally, the servant came in and began his duties. Tagore had already decided to fire him. He said, "Stop what you are doing and get out. You are fired." The man kept sweeping and said, "My little girl died last night."
This incident points up one of the great needs in the world today - the need for compassion. Compassion has been defined as "sorrow for the sufferings of another, with the urge to help." But, we have cheapened the word. When we hear the word "compassion," we really think of pity - and we hear such nauseating phrases as "pity the fool." Pity is not worth a plug nickle. It was pity that caused one man praying in the temple to say, self-righteously, "I am thankful I’m not like that man over there."
No, we do not need any more pity. We have had enough of that. What the world longs for is compassion. George Buttrick, in The Interpreter’s Bible, wrote that the word we translate as "compassion" is a much stronger word, meaning "the pain of love." That’s it. Compassion is the pain of love. Compassion means to suffer with another person. The word has a strong personal element. To have compassion means more than just feeling sorry for somebody. It means to get down where they are in the midst of their need and to suffer with them in the midst of their pain. When Noah Webster published An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, he began his definition of compassion this way: “A suffering with another; painful sympathy.”
I like that, but I find it very challenging.
We are a nation that is deeply divided. We disagree with each other and often we don’t trust each other. Across the political spectrum we are beginning to realize that what is wrong with America is moral and spiritual. I think people are beginning to see that it is going to take more than money to rebuild our cities and our homes, our families and marriages, and to preserve our children into the next generation.
We need a new birth of compassion.
As an illustration of this “painful sympathy,” Noah Webster quotes Luke 15:20, “His father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." That verse is very significant because it shows us that compassion is more than just a feeling. It’s not just an emotion. It’s more than feeling sorry for people in trouble. Biblical compassion means that you see the problem, you are moved by the need, you go out to where the problem is, and you get your hands dirty trying to help one person after another get their problems solved and raise them up to a higher level of life.
We see this in a number of places in the life of Christ.
Matthew 14:14 tells us that Jesus had compassion on the great crowd following him so he healed the sick and then fed the 5000.
We need more “Painful Sympathy"
Matthew 15:32 says that Jesus felt the same compassion on another crowd and so fed the 4000.
When Jesus saw the two blind men of Jericho, Matthew 20:34 tells us that he was filled with compassion and healed them on the spot.
Mark 1:40-41 offers the most telling example of what compassion meant to our Lord Jesus.
“A leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”
Here is the most shocking part of that text: Jesus touched a leper!
Jesus touched a leper!
In doing that, he broke all the customs and rules of that day. According to the Old Testament, if you had leprosy, you were unclean. People were so scared of lepers that they made them live in a colony away from the rest of society so they would not contaminate anyone else. But when Jesus saw the man with leprosy, he was so moved that he reached out and touched him.
Please understand something. For our Lord Jesus Christ, compassion was not a feeling; it was a commitment to get involved with hurting people. Real compassion is more than a feeling. Real compassion moves from feeling to action.
We are used to thinking of Jesus as the Son of God, and so he was. But I call to your attention what the Apostle Peter said in Acts 10:38 as his one-sentence summary of Jesus’ ministry: