There’s a word I use frequently when writing sermons and prayers—compassion. It’s my understanding that compassion sums up Jesus’ teachings and how we live out our Christian faith. Some of this understanding comes from studying New Testament scholar Marcus Borg who wrote, “For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God . . . Be compassionate as God is compassionate. . . For Jesus compassion was not simply an individual virtue, but a sociopolitical paradigm expressing his alternative vision of human life in community.”
Compassion has some interesting roots in the Bible. Marcus Borg explains that in Hebrew and Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) the word that we often translate as “compassion” is the plural of a noun that means “womb” in the singular. Compassion is located in the body, though one certainly doesn’t need to have a womb to be compassionate! (Sometimes for men the translation is that he felt compassion in his loins or having compassion because someone once came from their mother’s womb, just like all of us.) We can also consider our English word that comes from Latin roots (com—with and passion—to feel.) Compassion means to feel with others. It’s associated with feeling the suffering of somebody else, really feeling that suffering inside of us, and being moved to do something about it.
As Christians, we are called to be compassionate as God is compassionate. That’s why you’ll maybe notice now (if you haven’t before) that I use the word “compassion” in some form in worship nearly every single Sunday. Because compassion is essential to being a follower of Jesus the Christ.
We remember that we don’t always know what others are carrying on their shoulders. Though even not knowing what hardships people are facing can inform our thoughts and actions. Be compassionate anyhow. And when we do know what others are facing, we can feel with them and be moved to respond. We can spend the rest of our lives trying to be compassionate as God is compassionate, as Jesus taught and embodied.
(Quotes are from Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: the Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, 46-47)
(This Week’s Thoughts 1.31.19)