Compassion and Our Humanity

Compassion: deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering.

Ten times in three of the gospels Jesus is said to have taught, healed, fed, led, comforted and preached to people because of it. It is a mistake to assume that his miracles were just to prove his deity. They really proved his humanity. If we want to prove our humanity, we must be like him – compassionate.

The thinking of human beings never ceases to amaze me. In our society we lionize the morally worst of human specimens and ignore the greatest. We easily memorize the names of dozens of pop-culture idols who will soon be forgotten, but couldn’t possibly name the twelve apostles of Jesus whose preaching “turned the world upside down.” We never tire of hearing the sordid details of the latest celebrity’s fall from their pedestal of glory and label someone who is trying their best to be like Jesus as a dangerous religious radical. Truly, as a society we have our values turned upside down.

Take for example the concept of humanitarianism. A humanitarian is one who has concern for and uses human means to improve the welfare and happiness of people. The quality of character that describes a humanitarian is one who has compassion – a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering of his fellow man. Many sneeringly label humanitarians as “do-gooders,” and dismiss them as impossible freaks. I realize that such attitudes are the exception and not the rule, but in far too many, this way of thinking is evident.

When one thinks of the greatest humanitarians of history, names such as Mother Teresa, Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King come to mind. These were people who were deeply concerned with others – and did something about it. They realized that compassion was not some high-minded ideal, but a dynamic motivating force when it is allowed to stir us to action. Their concern was translated into actions, the reverberations of which still powerfully affect the world in which we live.

Each of these individuals saw the suffering and injustice masses of human beings were subjected to and were moved with compassion to do what they could to alleviate it. They were not content to preach high-sounding platitudes when action was called for. They knew that unless they did what they could to right the wrongs they saw their concern was worthless. They were living testimonials to the power of one individual to effect significant change in the world when compassion motivates a caring soul to action. They evidence the best of the human race.

The greatest of all humans was Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, He far excelled the concept of humanitarianism. His was the greatest compassion, greater even than any other name that might be remembered. He gave up the most to do the greatest service to humanity. He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7).

Why did He do this? Why did He perform this, the greatest act of service to suffering humanity ever seen on earth? He did it “that He might redeem us from every lawless deed” (Titus 2:14a). “Of course!” you say. “That is what He was supposed to do as God.” But there was more to His coming than that He might become the sacrifice for sin. He came “in the likeness of men” and took on Himself the “form of a bondservant.” As God, He was entitled to the worship of mankind, but as a human servant He was modeling the ideal human. It was His purpose in doing this to “purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14b). We learn in Him how to be truly human.

Of course, Jesus went beyond humanitarian means to provide for the needs of His fellow human beings. His life, His attitudes, His actions portray the ideal of humanity. His life is the “sine qua non,” the essential without which there would be no understanding of the meaning of humanity. Humanity is not just the pointless condition of being “homo sapiens.” We were created for more than mere material existence. We, along with every created thing “were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). That means that all creation – including ourselves – is special. Material creation was made to reflect God’s glory. Human beings were created to manifest His glory in a special way, by being the truest representation of God’s nature and glory. We alone, of all creation, have the distinction of being made in the image of God. We have, not only the responsibility of showing to the world the likeness of God, but the tremendous privilege of doing so!

The “good works” Christians are created for are not religious rituals. While they are good in themselves and in the right place, the works spoken of here are not acts of prayer or attendance in assemblies of public worship. Neither are they acts of extreme self denial or asceticism. They are simple daily acts of kindness done in behalf of others because we have the ability and concern for them and they have a need we can in some way alleviate. They are things we do because we are being made into the image of the ultimate man – the Son of God. Those who do little things are the ones of whom this is written. Jesus said, “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:41).

One who does any simple act of kindness because he is a disciple of Jesus is imitating his Master. He is manifesting His image. He is being truly human. In the words of the old hymn,

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.”

(Brighten the Corner Where You Are, Ina D. Ogdon, 1913).

Mother Teresa put it this way, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

Heavenly Father,

We thank you that you have revealed yourself in the person of Your Son so that we might not only understand You, but ourselves as well.

Help us to realize that our responsibility toward You is fulfilled in being what You made us to be.

May our hearts be always filled with worship and from that worship be transformed into useful vessels to serve You by serving others. May we devote ourselves to reflecting your glory in all the things we do.

Amen!

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