A dark bruise mars her otherwise striking features. Her long black hair is carefully combed forward to cover her black and blue cheek. Everyone stares, but no one dares ask. She mutters some excuse about clumsiness, but everyone knows the truth. This smart, talented college student is being beaten by her boyfriend. Most of the college group looks at her in pity. Some even offer up a prayer. But one girl, an awkward, frumpy freshman, slides into the seat next to her and says, “I know what is going on and I know you probably don’t want to talk about it. But if you ever do – I’m here. If you ever need help – here is my number. I have no clue what to do in this situation – but I can find out. You are not alone.”
Her ribs poke out, her head is too large for her tiny body and her eyes are sunken deep into her skull. Malnutrition and starvation have transformed a chubby five-year-old into a walking skeleton. A child who should spend her days laughing and playing, instead spends most of her time in a hunger-induced coma. One day, a cameraman shows up to photograph children for a national nonprofit campaign. Most people cannot bear to look at her graphic picture. Some feel sad and write a $30 check. But one family, a mom, dad and twin boys, decides to do whatever it takes to save this little girl. This girl, struggling to survive on another continent, is part of their family. They give up vacations, movie nights and extra Christmas presents to give this girl food, clothes, shelter, and education.
19 piercings. She has 19 piercings in her face alone and who knows what she is hiding under those baggy clothes. Her hair is matted and pink. She has a reputation for doing everything with any boy who looks her way. Always clothed in black, she is every mother’s worst fear as a friend for her child. Most of the class moms forbid their daughters to talk to her. Some of them offer her hand-me-down clothes or brochures on STDs. But one mother and daughter invite her over every day after school. They give her milk, cookies and unconditional love. One day the mom sits her down and says, “I know you feel completely alone in the world, but you aren’t. I am here and I will not give up on you. And I want to tell you about someone who loves you so much that He gave his life for yours…”
Pity vs. Compassion
- Pity sees a woman trip and fall into a mud puddle and thinks “how sad for her.” Compassion steps down into the mud and helps the woman out.
- Pity says, “That’s terrible. I’m sorry.” Compassion says, “I hurt for you, how can I help? Lets pray right now.”
- Pity is a gawking bystander to tragedy. Compassion is a co-bearer of burdens.
- Pity is from the flesh. Compassion is from the Spirit.
- Pity comes from guilt. Compassion comes from the love of Christ in us.
If Jesus had showed pity to us, He would have taken one look at sinners wallowing in sin and offered up a prayer to His Father before walking away. Instead, in the greatest show of compassion known to mankind, Jesus died for us. He left His throne in glory, came to earth in human form (Phil. 2:6-7), suffered a gruesome death on a cross – in our place (1 Pt. 2:24), and bore the punishment for our sins (Is. 53:12) that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). While we were still living in sin – hating Him – Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). That is compassion. That is love. That is our standard.
Example of Compassion
Jesus’ compassion for sinners compelled Him to meet physical needs:
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus met the needs of the people. When they were sick, He healed them. When they were hungry, He fed them. It wasn’t about checking off how many people He presented the gospel to or taking a headcount of salvations so He could compare notes with John the Baptist. He was about people. He met people where they were at and by meeting their needs, drew them to Himself.
As I read this passage again, I was struck by the realization that Jesus didn’t have to search for needs to meet. People with needs were all around Him. The remarkable thing about Jesus was that He saw them. How many needs do we overlook in our hurry to do … anything else? How many needs do we see every day that we ignore? How many needs do we recognize, only to pray God raises up someone to meet them? The very act of recognizing a need is a divine invitation to get involved. The question isn’t ‘should I do something’ but ‘what should I do?’
Jesus’ compassion for sinners compelled Him to meet spiritual needs:
Jesus didn’t just see a hungry person, or a sick person or a troubled person. He saw a thirsty woman and recognized that she needed living water (John 4). He saw a lame man and recognized that both his body and spirit needed new life (Matt. 9:1-8). He recognized great faith in the sinful woman who washed His feet (Luke 7:36-42) and in the Gentile soldier (Matt. 8). He was never satisfied just to hand people a loaf of bread – because He was concerned for their souls.
When He encountered those without purpose, without truth, without God, He taught them wisdom.“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34) He not only taught the people, but trained his disciples to pray for more laborers. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:35-38) Hint: you and I are those laborers.
Compassion is granted to all sinners, whether or not they’re deemed ‘worthy’ in human terms. When asked, Jesus extended forgiveness to the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:226-43). This is also the story of every believer – we are recipients of unmerited grace and forgiveness (Rom. 6:23).
Compassion meets both physical and spiritual needs, facilitating long-term (eternal) transformation. The adulterous woman about to be stoned until Jesus intervened. He rescued her from the immediate danger of death and called her to leave the life of sin behind (John 8).
Compassion puts aside personal needs to help others. After hearing of His cousin’s beheading, Jesus withdrew from the crowds to grieve. But when the people showed up in need of healing, He set aside His own needs to meet theirs (Matthew 14:13-14).
Compassion is a lifestyle, not a one-time event or a line on your resume. The Proverbs 31 woman, an example of godliness, is known for opening her arms to the poor and needy (Prov. 31:20).
Motivation for Compassion
Compassion isn’t about causes, or a social justice movement or adding a philanthropic section to your resume. Compassion is about people. It’s about Jesus. It’s about gratitude. It’s about worship.
Pity is motivated by the assumption that earthly wealth/health/safety makes some better than others, offering a token handout out of a mild case of guilt. Compassion is a sinner who has been redeemed, reaching out to other sinners in need of redemption. Compassion is motivated by gratefulness to Jesus for our salvation, driven by the unmerited love of Christ, flowing freely through us to extend God’s saving grace to a lost and dying world. Mother Theresa said, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
As you look at the abused college student, the starving child in Africa and the troubled teenage girl … what is your response?
Pity or compassion?