One. Two. Three. Three sailboats drifted out on the water today. I squinted my eyes, was that a fourth sail easing into view? Yup, that’s four. Clearly today was a beautiful day to be outside. I turned away from the huge window and glanced up at the clock. A half hour had passed in the time it had taken me to count the boats, wander fancifully through the streets stretching in thin ribbons below me, and imagine myself staring up at the high church steeple sticking like a needle in the distant horizon. Nothing behind me had moved in my mental absence. The little mound on the bed lay motionless, the machines swooshed rhythmically, the numbers on the screen glowed steadily. Nothing would change today, there would be no outside play for us. Satisfied that I had missed nothing inside, my eyes again drifted to the window to the world outside. We had been in other hospital rooms for long days without the wealth of a window, the walls were close and suffocating, and the hours crawled. In this room the light flooded in generously, and my very soul seemed to lift and smile at the sight of the sky, the vivid colors, and the maze of city stretching out like a painting beneath me. God knew, I am sure of it. We always ended back in these rooms with windows, and every time I felt certain God winked at me with a secret smile. When God does not send deliverance, He will be sure to send a window. This is compassion.
Jesus is compassion. Know Him, spend any amount of time with Him, and the secret needs of the heart will seem to have a spy among them. Here is a kindness on the hardest of days, there is encouragement when effort is exhausted, unexpected beauty to startle the eye in the darkest corner of trouble. This not accident or coincidence, this is compassion of a God who invites Himself as a quiet guest into each of His children’s troubles. It was compassion that drove Jesus’ tired hands to reach out again and again to sick ones. It was compassion that rang in His voice as He spoke peace to storms for terrified disciples. It was compassion that fed hungry bellies, and taught truth to hungry hearts. Compassion is not a spectator sport. Compassion is not observing from a safe distance. Biblical compassion is not private or personal. It is present, it is nosey, it is determined to be involved.
Jesus told a story once about a man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Have you ever been there? Have you ever lain on the side of the road, stripped of everything you held valuable, shamed, used, alone, and mortally wounded in your spirit? Trouble beats down relentlessly, hopelessness trickles in stinging rivulets into our eyes, and problems hum in clouds around our ears. What a pretty sight we make in such a sorry state!
Here is the irony of the story, it is religion that sees pain and walks on. It is the church pew that offers no comfort. It is the empty prayers, and meaningless phrases that offer no relief. It is God’s name used in vain that abandons the broken. These two clean and holy souls Jesus used in His story must have seen the beaten man, they may have even felt strong feelings of pity for him. That poor, poor man may have been the topic of discussion at their dinner table that night. Whatever feelings they had, or did not not have, we know one thing. They did not stop. Oh that I might be cured from a religion that does not stop! What difference does a sympathetic feeling make if I do not stop! How I must shame the name of my God by not being a stopping sort of person.
One man does stop. He is average, but he is noble. He is of dubious birth, but his religion is pure. He probably knows little of temple rituals, but he speaks the language of love fluently. He stops. He uses his own time, he delays his own plans, he gets blood on his clothes, he gets a blister from walking while the wounded man rides his animal, he uses up his own supplies, he spends his own money, he will have to explain to his wife why he is late getting home. This inglorious, anonymous stranger shows us that compassion is the personal and sacrificial participation in the pain of another. Compassion will hurry me when I am stopped, and stop me when I am hurrying.
Why? Why would we bother with such an inconvenience as compassion? Because it was inconvenient for God to leave Heaven for us. Because the cross was inconvenient. Because the great love born from great compassion that seeks us when we are running, that saves us when we are lost, that keeps us when we are weak, that suffers our insulting behavior without leaving, that forgives us daily, that caries us hourly, is also that which is intended to transform us. Compassion is the nosey cousin of love who insists on bringing over a casserole for dinner, writes a note just because, and mows the grass when no-one is home. When compassion speaks, it sounds an awfully lot like Jesus. And it may even look like a window.
Jude 22 “And some have compassion making a difference:”