“The Compassion of Christ,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
I speak in this essay not of the Passion of Jesus, but of his compassion. His passion, his sacrificial life, death, and resurrection, are separate items. Within his life and death, he offers us moral guidance, and redemption, and the repair of a broken and twisted relationship with God, offering us new and eternal life. Little, however, has been spoken of, or rather not enough, of his compassion.
Compassion is an elusive word and quality. We, human beings often speak of love, or of being loved. Rarely is there discussion of compassion Jesus. I think his life and sayings offer some insight into what constitutes compassion. I think compassion may be defined as entering into other people’s pain, and suffering and taking it or apprehending it to your own self and humanity. Compassion involves not only entering into other people’s feelings but, in a sense, feeling those feelings. Perhaps compassion may be defined by the word ‘empathy,’ rather than ‘sympathy’ since empathy is the quality of entering into other people’s lives and their concerns and taking them to yourself and part of yourself.
Jesus, in some way or sense, is or was the epitome of what we can understand as compassion. At the end of his life, the evangelist Saint Luke records Jesus as saying (Luke 23:43) to one of the thieves crucified beside him on the day of his death, “Verily I say unto thee today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The Apostle Luke in the same chapter (Luke 23:34) records Jesus saying of his malefactors, crucifiers and executioners, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” There is another incident that comes to mind that shows Jesus’s compassion. Mary is said to come to Jesus and fall at his feet saying to him, “Lord if thou hadst been here my brother had not died” (John 11:32). John records Jesus as seeing Mary weeping and the Jews also weeping who came with her and John states, “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (John 11:33). In John 11:34, Jesus asks, “where have ye laid him? [and] They said unto him, Lord come and see.” In verse 35, it is said, “And Jesus wept.” The compassion of Christ is seen here boldly and starkly. It is not that Jesus cries for and in self-pity, but he weeps for the brother of Mary who is dying and then deceased.
The compassion of Jesus is all-encompassing and all-embracing. To his killers, Jesus asks God to forgive them; to the basest of criminals and on one of the underclass and an outcast of society, he pronounces that that miscreant will be with him that day in paradise. For a broken, failed, corrupt, twisted and empty humanity, he weeps.
The compassion of Christ is beyond human understanding. Most of us in our relationships with people offer little more than a few words sympathy. For most of us, our lives are spent in self thought, if not self worship. The compassion of Christ moves all of us beyond this limitation and brings us into a full compassion that few us are able to attain.
On the day that others give us pain, are we able to and can we forgive them? Better put, when we are perchance murdered at the moment of our death can we forgive out murderers? Can we in this materialistic and corruptly class-ridden world based on wealth and power, equate ourselves with a criminal and thief and say to him you will be with me in paradise?
Most of us would not even talk to criminal and certainly not invite him to our homes to dine. The compassion of Christ reaches beyond human comprehension and understanding. It is entering into others, understanding others, being with others, and even suffering with others their pains and their lot, however dark and dank in life.
It comes to mind that the contemporaries of Jesus were shocked by his behavior patterns. Each time I see people who adhere to class consciousness, wealth criteria, intellectual criteria, or whatever criteria they may choose to use to uplift themselves, I recall this criticism of Jesus of Nazareth, frequently said in the Gospels and recorded many times. In Luke 7:34, the Pharisees said of Jesus “The son of man has come eating and drinking and ye say behold a gluttonous man and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners?” Further, the Evangelist Matthew records Jesus as saying that many publicans and sinners sat down with Jesus and his disciples and the Pharisees, seeing this, said to his disciples, “Why eat with your master with publicans and sinner?” (See also Mark 2:16 and Luke 5:30).
Jesus’s compassion reaches to the societal lowest of the low and the and basest of the base. Jesus’s compassion knows no class and race distinctions. It is all-embracing, offered, and given to all regardless of their false societal status that the world imposes on them. The compassion of Christ is beyond human compassion. It is the image and truth and actuality of God’s compassion that we are called upon to follow as best we can.
This essay is taken, with alterations and modifications, from Chapter 20 of the book “Essays on the Christian Worldview and Others Political, Literary and Philosophical,” pp. 54 and 55, pub. by Hamilton books, by Andrew J. Schatkin