Compassion has become an attractive word. Somewhat of a trend for celebrities, sport stars, government officials… It has become an attribute for the metro man to cry, to show a gentle heart. But perhaps compassion has become just this – a sentimental, superficial mask that I sometimes use to show others how great I am.
True compassion always moves your body – not just your emotion – towards the other. It moves you to embrace the other, focused on their wholeness, on restoring their human dignity. Part of the priestly calling of the followers of Christ is to be a compassionate servant that takes the suffering, brokenness, pain, rejection and deep woundedness on themselves. We do this in such a way that the other’s pain becomes our pain. As the late Nelson Mandela said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Ps 145:8-9 sings about this gracious, compassionate God who shows His tender mercies to all. In verse 9 the word used for mercies is also used for compassion or womb. God carries the pain of the world in His womb – it moves Him in His stomach and in His actions. It births a distinctive movement. Verse 14-21 sings about God on the move. God who supports the weak, who lifts up the fallen – God with the compassionate hands. God’s compassion moves Him to become the incarnation of carrying-the-burdens of others.
In Isaiah 55:1-5 this compassion becomes an open invitation, something that is given freely. A gift without prerequisites or demands; A gift that God is eager to give, so that His love may be tasted. Compassion becomes a sensory experience, not just a hidden emotion.
In Matt 14:13-21 Jesus saw the crowds coming to Him, longing for this water that brings wholeness. In verse 14 we read that Christ was splagchnizomai (Greek word). We translate this with moved with compassion, or feeling sorry for. Literally it means to be moved as to ones bowels. To be moved in the gut with compassion. After Christ’s sickening feeling of love towards the wounded, ill, rejected, downtrodden…this inner movement moves to healing them and later feeding them. Compassion becomes sensory.
In Rom 9:2-3 Paul is crying for outsiders, for those who have no access to the open invitation to taste the compassion of God’s love. This is not just a momentary sorrow. His compassion is not just seasonal. It is a constant. Paul’s compassion moves him to the desperate point of willingness to sacrifice his own wholeness for the sake of the cut off. His compassion moves him to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people…”
People who are affected by, or living with HIV and AIDS need to experience this compassion in a sensory way. May God move us.
To think about: How would a sensory compassion feel, taste, sound, look and smell towards people who are affected by, or living with HIV and AIDS?
Written by: Pieter Roeloffse, Pastor at Dutch Reformed Church Prince Alfred’s Hamlet