“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)
We came into 2023 with various expectations. Irrespective of what it means to the individual, we are invited to be like our Master, Jesus Christ every moment in the year. We are invited to the place of compassion. What does this mean? Does compassion mean the same thing as mercy or empathy? I don’t think so. They are expressions that are sometimes used as its synonyms. However, as I attempt to explicate below, compassion is deeper in character.
The sound of the word in one’s hearing brings two other words to mind – comfort and passion. In as much as they do not constitute the etymological components of compassion, they no doubt combine to present a formidable perspective for grasping what compassion is all about. When Prophet Isaiah announced, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” (Isaiah 40:1), the recipients of that message in his day would have wondered what he was getting at. Some 740 years later, Jesus Christ read another message by the same prophet from Chapter 60:1-2 and declared with authority that the Scripture was fulfilled in the hearing of those present at that moment (Lk. 4:18).
In other words, Jesus was the fulfilment of the condition for making that promised comfort a reality for humanity. The said fulfilment was characterized by the treatment He would later receive at various times of His three and half years of ministry, which climaxed at Golgotha. Etymologically speaking, compassion is derived from two Latin words, “passio” and “com” which mean “to suffer” and “together” respectively. Combining both, we can safely deduce the meaning of compassion as “suffering together.” Suffering on the part of the one giving comfort to a sufferer is defines the said condition.
There are many around us who need comfort just as it was in the days of Jesus Christ. If we would be like our Master in 2023, we must be ready to give comfort and it may mean doing so with a measure of suffering or pain in one form or the other. For some, it may entail parting with something that is precious to us. For others it may require the sacrifice of convenience and/or rights. The pain may result from the condition of others, or what must be done because of the condition. What counts is what we do about the condition.
In conclusion, we can show mercy or be empathetic without emotion. However, we cannot be compassionate with our emotion intact. No wonder, Jesus wept because of the pain of Mary and Martha. He suffered with them and did something about it, just as He suffered with the crowd who thronged to Him “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” and met their spiritual and physical needs.
Pst. Dr. Isaiah Okanlawon
International President, PHGM/PHGMi