During college, a group from our Baptist Student Union went on a mission trip to New York City. We prepared and delivered meals to AIDS sufferers, served in a homeless shelter, painted some rooms at a Baptist associational office, and many other things.
We stayed at a church in a section of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen. Although this region of the city is currently being refurbished, at that time even many New Yorkers avidly avoided the filthy, unsafe area. New York natives’ eyebrows rose when we answered questions about the locale of our accommodations. We watched as they mentally crossed off their classification as “tourist” and replaced it with “respected” as we willingly laid down our heads there each night.
A few evenings we arrived home a little late. We’d take the subway to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Avenue and then walk the last couple of blocks home. The later we arrived each evening, the more people we saw lined up along the buildings; homeless persons curled up asleep, some sitting around talking. Occasionally we even had to step over a passed out or sleeping person in order to continue walking on the sidewalk.
I remember one such incident remarkably well. While walking to a project, we came to a woman curled up on the ground at the foot of one of Manhattan’s towers. This moment stands out in my mind as one of those times that molded me into who I am today. This woman was unique. And not in a good way.
This woman wasn’t in Hell’s Kitchen…she was in a more prominent area of the city.
Although she lay on the street, it wasn’t late in the evening…it was the middle of the day.
She didn’t have the worn, crumpled, dirty clothes of a homeless person…she lay there naked except for a box. She lay huddled inside the box which reached from her chest to part way down her legs.
I would have kept my straight-ahead-no-eye-contact New York gaze except, in her case, I wasn’t worried about making eye contact. Her eyes were shut as she lay there shaking. Shivering? Trembling? Convulsing? Overdosing? I’ll never know.
Regardless of why she lay there in such a condition, I was moved with compassion for her.
And I did nothing except walk on by.
Fast forward to now – this month.
I looked up all the verses that use the word compassion and was quickly convicted by what I saw.
Jesus told stories about people who were moved with compassion. In each of those stories, when compassion overcame the person – they did something. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, the king’s compassion led him to forgive the servant’s debt (Matthew 18:22-35). In the story of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan man’s compassion caused him to treat the wounds of the injured man and take him to a place to receive care (Luke 10:25-37). In the story of the prodigal son, the father’s compassion made him run to his rebellious son and lavish him with gifts and affection (Luke 15:11-32).
But wait, there’s more.
Jesus didn’t only tell stories about people who acted when compassion overwhelmed them.
Jesus lived it.
Jesus saw a large crowd; He had compassion on them – so He healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14).
Jesus had compassion on a crowd of thousands who hadn’t eaten in three days – so He fed them (Matthew 15:32).
Compassion moved Jesus when two blind men came to Him seeking their sight – so He gave them sight (Matthew 20:34).
A man with leprosy asked Jesus to make him clean. Compassion filled Jesus – so He cured the man (Mark 1:40-42).
Jesus saw people lost as sheep without a shepherd – so He taught them (Mark 6:34).
Jesus felt compassion for a man possessed by demons – so He cast them out (Mark 5:18-19).
Jesus experienced compassion at the sight of a widow grieving the death of her only son – so He comforted her. (Luke 7:12).
Jesus had compassion on so many people needing so many things – so He commanded us to pray for them (Matthew 9:36-38).
Jesus had compassion – so He did SOMETHING.
We may have the tenderest heart of anyone we know. We may weep for starving children, abused women, victims of sex trafficking, people without a home, broken marriages, and those caught up in the world’s deceptions. Compassion requires us to finish the sentence though; we have to add our own “so I…”
I have compassion for my neighbor whose husband just left her so I…
I have compassion for my child’s friend who doesn’t have any food in her home so I…
I have compassion for the people I pass in the street who have nowhere to go so I…
I have compassion for people in countries closed to the gospel message so I…