Compassion - The Sign of a Follower of Jesus Christ
What is a clear sign of someone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ? What virtues should stand out abundantly clear for a follower of the Lord, and what should distinguish the vision and mission of Christ’s Church?
Well, in the final dialogue Jesus had with his disciples before His passion, death and resurrection, our Lord reminded his followers, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
The first most fundamental description of God and of His followers is LOVE. Love for one another. Love for our neighbor. Love even for our enemy. Unconditional love for all people. Love that goes far beyond a simple emotion, but is an action that we will, something that we concretely do. Love is an active verb!
Love in action describes another virtue that is central for all Christians and needs to always be at the center of every Christian community – at the very heart of the vision and mission of the church! And that is COMPASSION. Expressing not only empathy for another, where we enter into the suffering and struggles of another, but going beyond empathy to action, putting a concrete form onto our love.
The story of Taylor Meehan, an 11 year old boy who would go with his mother once a month to serve meals to homeless people, exemplifies this spirit. One cold January night, with the snow blowing outside, Taylor helped to serve meals to more than 600 people. But more than just serve meals, he would interact in a loving and compassionate way with each person he served.
As he brought food to one man, he noticed how the man shivered from the cold. The old man had a thin coat, and shoes with gaping holes in them. When Taylor saw this, he stopped serving in order to run to the supply room to hunt for extra shoes. He only found a pair of ladies’ fuzzy pink slippers. With slippers in hand, he ran back to the shivering man and got down on his knees next to the man’s feet. He quickly stuck his own big feet out and pressed them against the strangers. He laughed out loud, “Mine are about the same size as yours!”
Gently, Taylor pulled off the man’s torn up shoes. The bottom of one shoe flapped loosely away from the top. Taylor placed the worn shoe on the floor, and then proceeded to take off his own, brand new basketball sneakers. He felt the icy cold of the man’s feet as he pulled dry socks over them. He carefully guided the man’s stiff feet into the warm, new shoes. The man rubbed his eyes and spoke to him in broken English. He placed his hand softly on Taylor’s shoulder, to express his gratitude. Taylor just sat with the man as he then ate his meal, silently holding his one hand.
Afterwards, as the young boy helped to clean up, he walked around the hall wearing a pair of women’s fuzzy pink slippers. Some people smiled in a quizzical way as they looked at his feet, but he just beamed the largest smile, thinking back on his newfound friend.
Compassion. Love in action. Love for God translates into a compassionate love for others, especially those in need all around us! Throughout the life of Jesus, we see how He offered such compassion. Today’s Gospel reading was just another example, when our Lord saw a distraught, desperate widow mourning the death of her only son. She was alone, vulnerable, and in need. Yet Scriptures notes, “Jesus saw her and had compassion on her.” Our Lord realized a truly desperate situation – a first century woman with no husband, no son, and thus no support, a vulnerable, desperate situation. So He reached out to her with compassion!
Now we all may not be able to do all the things that Christ did, as He raised the widow’s son from the dead. Yet, we see how He sets an example for all His followers by noticing those who are suffering and in need, reaching out to them with love and kindness, helping them realize that they are not alone in their despair, and then offering whatever He can to alleviate their situation.
When one is suffering and in need, what do people need most? One could argue that their greatest need is for someone to simply notice them, for someone to enter into the depths of their sorrow or pain or struggle. When one feels they are not alone, they find great comfort and strength. When we empathize with others, offering a loving presence, even if we can’t resolve their problems, we give someone hope to go on, to persevere and to never despair or give up.
Always remember the etymology of the word "compassion” comes from its Latin roots means "co-suffering." Compassion involves not only "feeling for another" but “feeling with another,” entering into their struggle with them.
Of course, the beauty of our faith is that Jesus Christ not only sets the supreme example of how to reach out in compassion to others, but He asks each one of us to imitate Him. In the world today, WE are Christ’s hands and feet. WE are His ambassadors who bring His love and compassion to all people everywhere. If we are living our faith in an authentic manner, no one would skeptically ask the question, “Where is God in the midst of the world’s suffering?” They wouldn’t ask this question because they would see God in us; they would experience His love through the concrete compassion we offer to others.
And this needs to be the central vision and mission of our Church Family! Here is how we want people in central Massachusetts to think about our Saints Constantine and Helen Church. We don’t want them to identify our church first with its annual Greek Festival. We want them to think of us first as a community of love and compassion!!! We want people to think of what we do every first Saturday in our Living Bread Luncheon. We want them to think of what we do every summer at Project Mexico. We want them to think of the meal we offer on Thanksgiving Day, the 50 boxes of supplies we send to St. Innocent Orphanage, the time we offer to build with Habitat for Humanity, and the other ways we reach out into the world with love and compassion!
Contrary to a common contemporary motto that life is a self-centered play about ourselves, we remember that the Christian message is not about me, it’s not about us, but it’s all about an other-centered love story focused on how we can show God’s love and compassion in concrete ways to the world in need! And through loving others who are created in the image of God, we express our sincere love for our Creator Himself!
As Jesus Himself clearly told and showed His followers, the world will know we are His disciples by our love and compassion! Let us go out this week, and express this love and compassion in our words, in our actions, in our everyday life!!!
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