Sometimes Jesus is portrayed as being a wimp, a pushover, a weakling who has sand in His face at the beach by bullies. He is plaintively wailing for people to accept His forgiveness. He stands outside the door in the rain, knocking and hoping we will let Him in.
Other times we only think of Jesus as the one who drove the moneychangers out of the temple, who pronounced woe on the Pharisees and called them serpents and wolves in sheep’s clothing, the rider on the white horse who is coming to mete out justice. He takes on an avenging God image, more akin to something out of Norse mythology.
The truth is in neither of those extremes. Jesus was bold and firm where it suited Him and He was compassionate where it suited Him. When He was dealing with the religious leaders of the day, His wrath and anger is palpable from the pages of Scripture as His pronounces His judgment upon them. You can almost feel the heat of His anger coming from the pages “Woe to you scribers and Pharisees, hypocrites!” In other places though, Jesus is the very embodiment of a neglected virtue, compassion. When He looked on the lost, like sheep without a shepherd, He was compassionate. When He saw people who were hungry, or were sick, or were grieving, He was compassionate.
When He permitted Himself to be nailed to a cross, to suffer shame, pain and ignominious death in my place, He was compassionate.
Compassion is weakness. So our culture says. Only the strong survive. Get them before they get you. Win at all costs, do what you have to in order to get ahead. Being cynical and cold is smart, being compassionate means you are a sap. Might makes right. Winning arguments is more important than winning souls.
Jesus didn’t see compassion as a weakness or a character flaw.
When you do good for others, what motivates you? Is it an obligation, do you trudge off to help someone else out of a sense of resignation and duty? Is it an exchange, that if you help this downtrodden person God will be required to bless you materially or perhaps even in eternity? Or is it compassion? What are we called to as believers, as beneficiaries of God’s covenant with His people to redeem them from their sins?
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3: 12-17)
Note the way Paul addresses this thought: as God’s chosen ones. God’s elect are expected to act differently because of their status as redeemed. We are to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient. In other words, we are to emulate Christ, to be “Christ-like”. It is interesting that this section is immediately followed by the admonition to Christian wives to submit to their husbands and for Christian husbands to love their wives. As it pertains to husbands, verses 12-17 are especially applicable. Being “the man” doesn’t mean “make me turkey pot pie woman!”. It actually requires a great deal of compassion and patience. We are called to honor our wives, to love them, to be compassionate toward them. Are they “weaker vessels”? Sure (1 Peter 3:7). All the more reason to be compassionate toward them.
I am not super great at this. Compassion is not one of my strong suits. That doesn’t get me off the hook by deciding that compassion is not my “spiritual gift”. We may be gifted differently but we are all called to be compassionate. We are called to put on Christ-like virtues and compassion is one of the most important of them. Compassion for the lost. Compassion for the hungry, for the widow, for the orphan. We certainly should be patient and compassionate with one another as the church. Nowhere should we be more compassionate than with our helpmeet, our joint heirs with Christ. I and many others are so very concerned with being “right” that we fail to be compassionate. That doesn’t mean that where a brother or sister is in error (real error, not just disagreement with me) we should let it go. That also doesn’t mean that we should abandon the truth or even our convictions. Regardless, where we speak to one another our words should be salted with grace. Our words and deeds should be compassionate, meek and humble as much as they are firm, bold and convicted.
Compassion is not a virtue valued by the world but for those who are the recipients of the ultimate act of compassion, it should be of infinite value to us.