Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8
The Washington Post uses the word “compassion” as a synonym for governmental spending to help the needy and homeless. And while no rational person would argue against the involvement of government in helping the homeless and the poor, the idea of compassion as being a government program is a far cry from the biblical concept of the word. The term “compassion,” found some 41 times in 39 verses, always included personal involvement.
I came to grips with the issue of personal involvement several years ago when I was in a traffic jam in Manila. As often happens, a little child guiding a blind beggar rapped on the window asking for money. With the full understanding of the possibility that the need wasn’t really valid, I yet reached for my wallet to give the person some money. I’ve always felt that it is better to perhaps give to someone whose plea is not valid than to turn away someone who was really hungry.
In the back seat was Kim Wickes, a Korean-American singer who had been blinded from the blast of a bomb that burst too close to her as she stood watching the exploding bombs as a little child in her native Korea. “What’s going on?” asked Kim. I explained that a beggar was asking for money. She immediately said, “Wait, just a minute,” and reached into her purse, taking out a rather large sum of money. “Here, give this to the beggar,” she said thrusting the money into my hands.
As the traffic began to inch forward, Kim said, “I know what it is to have to beg for food,” explaining that if people had not given her food in response to her begging as a blind child, she would have starved to death.
As we drove on, I felt convicted. I had concern, but she had compassion. There are some things, however, that I can never live long enough to experience. I cannot know the depths of the pain that you suffer. I have not experienced your loneliness or the anguish that you experience because you have been a victim in life. Yet this does not stop me from reaching out to you, and as I do so I begin to experience, at least in a small way, what you are facing and where you are.
Our problem today is that we just don’t care. We are perfectly content to let the government “do it,” or let an agency do it, or say, “This isn’t my problem!”
Jesus had compassion on the multitudes of people who came to hear him–individuals who were harassed and helpless “like sheep without a shepherd.” But we say, “I’m not Jesus!” Yet Peter concluded the letter which we know as 1 Peter, saying, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Taking these words to heart, I recognize my responsibility to be involved with the person who hurts.
“Okay,” you may be thinking, “There are a lot of hurting people out there. I can’t help them all!” And I freely concede the point. If, however, one hurting person at a time crossed your path–the woman in your office whose husband walked out on her, the neighbor down the street who is out of work, the brother in your church whose wife just died–if just one person reached out to you in need, could you stop long enough to hear what he or she hears, to feel what he or she feels, and to be there in the time of need? That is where compassion begins.
Resource reading: Matthew 9:35-38.
Publisher’s Note: The original title of this article is “Compassion”