Last night in our Home Group we were talking about the thrust of the book of Jonah. I was trying to help our group see that God's compassion (mercy) is a huge theme in the book. And they saw it. But I wasn't sure they saw the disconnect that often happens between our feelings and our actions.
So I asked a question.
We had a couple of children in the group so, not assuming anything, I asked the group what compassion is. The first couple of answers revolved around this idea of empathy or feeling like helping. Because I had in my mind the "right answer," I wasn't listening well enough. So I kind of blew off their answer. Now in hind-sight, their answer was correct (though incomplete). So I proceeded to make my point that compassion is an active response--not just an emotional response. But my answer really minimized the emotional part of that.
Well, God set me straight this morning as I read through Luke 10.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches that a good neighbor is someone who shows compassion and mercy. But what caught my attention this time was these words:
"When (the Samaritan) saw the (injured) man, he felt compassion for him." (Luke 10:33, NLT, emphasis mine)
So this was God setting me straight that part of acting compassionately or mercifully is being motivated by a feeling--which fits. If God's Spirit (loving, compassionate to the core) is alive in me, he will pour that feeling in (and hopefully) through me. This happened in the story.
At this point, I will add that faith is an essential component. This feeling from the Holy Spirit assumes that I have faith in the Compassionate One, Jesus.
Back to the story, Jesus continues by making the second point (my point of emphasis last night) that feeling compassionate is not enough. It must be accompanied by compassionate action.
This is where we as Christ-followers often fall short. (And why I am so sensitive to this) We see someone in need and hurt for them. But then, either because a lack of faith or love (or both), we do nothing. We have our excuses but at the end of the day they almost always fall short. I should know. I do it a lot.
So it's not enough to feel compassion for somebody. But that IS part of it. Sympathy or empathy can be powerful motivators.
That's why you'll see parents who have lost a child to cancer minister to parents with a child going through cancer treatments. They can empathize (like no one else) with some of what they're going through. This is where the saying, "God never wastes a hurt" comes in. God can encourage and strengthen people going through great pain through people who've been through great pain.
All this reminds me of the powerful verse that summarizes what the Lord requires of his followers:
"To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8, NIV) Imagine if Christ's followers just did this every day...the world would be a different place.
Jesus finished up this story asking which one was a neighbor to this suffering man. They correctly answered, "The one who showed him mercy." (10:37)
Jesus then told them--and us--, "Yes, now go and do the same."
Feel compassion. Then act accordingly.