When Compassion Leaves the Church

It should not have to be this difficult to find compassion among the followers of Jesus. According to the scripture, before Jesus was a teacher, a healer, or a miracle-worker, he was one full of compassion. In the Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus three times sees a crowd and has compassion on them. When he comes upon two blind men sitting by the side of the road, he was full of compassion. Before he multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry multitudes, Jesus had compassion for them.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he didn’t pretend that he didn’t see them. He didn’t turn away or go find another spot. Jesus didn’t require them to listen to a sermon first, or to show their religious stripes, or pass a scripture test. He didn’t wait for them to ask, or make them beg, or convert them first. He didn’t expect them to justify themselves, their sickness, or their hunger. He didn’t demand they shout out, or bow down, or perform a sacrifice, or praise him, or express their gratitude first. He had compassion.

Jesus didn’t wait to find out if they could afford it. He didn’t check to see if they came from the right family. He didn’t search the Hebrew scripture for a justification. He didn’t stop to ask himself if they deserved it, or if they earned it, or if they even wanted it. He didn’t try to sort out the true believers first. He didn’t preach about a narrow way. He didn’t tell them to go and sell everything and give it to the poor. He had compassion.

Jesus didn’t wade into the crowd to see which ones agreed with him. He didn’t ask them if they bought into his interpretation of this text or that. He didn’t examine their views on piety, or temple practices, or the Sadducees and the Pharisees, or rendering under Caesar, or marriage, or heaven and hell, or even salvation. He didn’t require them to attest that he was the only way. He didn’t divide them into groups based on where they came from, or what dialect they spoke, or what side of the street they lived on, or who were haves and who were have nots. He didn’t check to see who was pulling on their own bootstraps or who was trying to pull their own fair share. He didn’t wait to declare who was sicker or hungrier. He didn’t ridicule them, or question them, or demonize them, or label them, or tell them they were wrong, or yell at them. He didn’t lead with cynicism, or lack of trust, or fear. He led with compassion. He didn’t stoke their fear, or pit them against each other, or threaten them, or assume they were lying, or conclude they were out to get something they in no way deserved. He had compassion.

The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is listed in the Christian tradition as one of the miracles of Jesus. But before “the Multiplication”, there was his compassion. Was such compassion remarkable? Yes. Was it miraculous? Perhaps. But was his compassion itself a miracle? No. Compassion ought not to be that much of a stretch for humankind. It shouldn’t be so unexpected. Compassion is not reserved for only the holiest or the most divine. Compassion ought to be so utterly human. The plea isn’t to just “have some compassion.” The example of Jesus is to be “filled with compassion.”

When it came to the crowds, his compassion always came first. It came before he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the bread and gave it them, and before the Last Supper, and even before his crucifixion and resurrection. His compassion came before the canon of the New Testament took shape, before the Apostles’ Creed, before the King James Bible, before theology and doctrine, and before biblical interpretation. Long before the Reformation, and before liberals and conservatives, and literalists, and fundamentalists, and progressives and evangelicals, there was his compassion. Long before those who take the name of Jesus, before Christians disagreed and argued about pretty much everything, before it became more important to be right rather than be faithful, before Christians became so enamored with who is in and who is out, there was his compassion. Before the bible and Christianity and the name of Jesus were used to invoke violence and hate and slavery and oppression and exclusion, there was his compassion.

Before the expression “follow the money” became an adage in politics and business and corruption and life, the Christian should have been taught to “follow the compassion”. For Jesus it would seem, it all started with compassion. When such compassion leaves the church, we face a much bigger crises than membership, attendance, and denominational futures. Today, now, there can’t be anything that is more important when bearing witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus by communicating, living, breathing, and exhibiting compassion. God knows it is way too hard to find these days.

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