We humans are capable of deep feelings. We can enter into the situations of others. We can sense someone else's grief.
'Compassion' literally means 'to suffer with'. People who have struggled with grief will mostly be able to testify to the reality of compassion they have experienced. That's why grieving people are generally appreciative people.
But grieving people are also aware of the limits of compassion. We can comfort each other but we then we need to return to life. Our outreach of compassion is limited. Hebrews 4:14-16 focuses on that. It tells of Jesus, the great High Priest, who has gone through the heavens and who sympathizes with our weaknesses.
A small band of priests in France once hired themselves out to work in the mines of Borinage in an attempt to understand the plight of the miners. But the miners began to resent their presence. They said, "You are not really part of us, you will leave again and forget us."
The Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, felt intensely drawn to human suffering. For years he portrayed the distress of his age. But as he gained fame he became well to do. He bought a small castle near the French Riviera far from the misery of the world. Here he could live away from the sights and sound of the suffering of humanity.
Christians are members of the Body of Christ; they share his mind. In sincere love, Christ reaches out today to the unfortunate and the helpless, the lonely and the hurting. We must practice that virtue with him. We do not set conditions. Christ came to us, the undeserving. In the practice of compassion we do not look at results foremost. Christ came to the hopeless cases.
For anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of and appreciation for compassion, I strongly recommend: Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. One of the many things I learned from reading this book was that compassion is much more about taking action than it is about a feeling or emotion. Although I read this book in the early 1980s, it helped shape my thinking about my relationship with and view of those who suffer. Today, when I hear someone mention the problem of "compassion fatigue," I am grateful that I have God who never tires of having and showing compassion to someone like me on a daily basis.
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