Summary: Real compassion is not pity or empathy, but suffering with the sufferer. This often takes experience. [Watch video:]

Scripture Reading: Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.


Surely, you would have heard the word "compassion" several times. What is your understanding of what it means? I'd like you to take a moment to think about it because it is an important word in the Christian lexicon. As we read in today's passage, he felt compassion for the people, so he began to teach them many things. If we are to lead lives in imitation of Christ, then we also need to feel compassion, which is why we need to have a proper understanding of what it means.

We often confuse compassion with pity. Imagine you are walking along the road and see a beggar who is very emaciated — very thin and weak — and you feel sorry for him, but without really understanding his state of being or sharing what he might be feeling. That's pity. The more sensitive among us might attempt to become aware of the beggar's emotions or understand how he feels. That's empathy, which is also very often confused with compassion. However, compassion is a very deep, gut-wrenching response to the suffering we see in others, making us suffer with them!

This is most easily felt when we have experienced the particular pain ourselves. For instance, if we have gone through the pain of a messy divorce, we will KNOW what a friend feels when she goes through a divorce. If we haven't gone through it, not only would we not feel the pain of the person, we might find ourselves being judgmental instead of even sympathetic. Similarly, we will never know what the loss of a loved one feels like unless we have gone through it ourselves. And in this knowing, which is experiential, we will be able to comfort the distressed person.

Jesus may not have gone through everything we have gone through when he walked upon this earth as a human, but as God, he feels everything we feel just like we feel it, so he can be genuinely compassionate. And he comforts us. How? By teaching us that he is there through the storm, and if he doesn't calm the storm, he will calm us! And then, we should say along with Paul, "Praise be to God, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God: (2 Corinthians 1:4).

We all suffer, but we can use our suffering for the good of others. All it takes is compassion.


Today's devotional — Real Compassion — is based on Mark 6:30-34, the gospel reading for the day. The reflection is by Aneel Aranha, founder of Holy Spirit Interactive (HSI). Follow him on Facebook: