Is Compassion Really Compulsory?
We have just celebrated Easter and the Risen Christ! As I approached Easter, I had this question in mind, “Is Compassion really compulsory for Christ’s followers?” Did Jesus teach us an important compassion-principle during Holy Week?” Does Christ’s death and resurrection make a point I had not thought about before now? I used to think that compassion was situational, depending on a person’s need, or someone’s love for another, or just the right thing to do. I had thought that there are times when compassion for people might even be wrong – for instance, it would have been incorrect for Christ to show compassion to the moneychangers when he was casting them out of the temple. I never thought that compassion might be compulsory nor considered under what circumstances it would be compulsory.
Let’s start with some definitions. Compassion is defined as the sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress together with the desire to alleviate it. Literally, compassion means, “to suffer together,” or “to suffer with.” Calling something compulsory means that it is required by law or rule – it’s obligatory.
What does the Bible have to say about our duty to show compassion? Genesis chapter 3 tells us how sin entered into the human race and brought the penalty of death. In Exodus 34: 5-8, the Lord speaks directly to Moses and tells him the consequences of sin, “I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin. But I do not forgive the guilty.” The question is who is guilty of sin? We all know the answer to that: it’s all of us. The Bible says the unrepentant guilty will die and be separated from God.
Fast forward to the coming of Jesus. At the end of Jesus’ ministry, a new situation appears where we the guilty (in those days) are going to kill the non-guilty Jesus. Jesus speaks freely to his disciples about this coming event before the Passover celebration: “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘as you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified’” (Matthew 26: 1-2).
In the Upper Room, Jesus goes over the details of the “New Covenant”— a new “Passover” is about to happen. After dinner, Jesus walks to the Garden of Gethsemane with his three closest disciples to pray to His Father. The reality of His crucifixion is imminent and it becomes agonizing for Him. He proceeds to ask His Father three times that this “cup of suffering be taken away from me.” A modern day analogy might be an airline pilot calling air traffic control for a deviation course around a severe storm seen on his plane’s radar.
God the Father, creator of all things, could respond positively to Jesus’ prayer for a course correction around the crucifixion. But the Father did not give a course correction. As in Matthew 26: 42, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away, unless I drink it, your will be done.” That was Jesus’ third plea to the Father, and He received the answer and strength to go forward through the crucifixion.
Jesus knows that obeying the Father leads to ultimate joy. The human sin debt needs to be paid (see Genesis chapter 3). Jesus’ coming crucifixion is the “death” payment and sin redemption for the human race.
So during this Easter season, I wondered, “is compassion compulsory?” I believe, yes, it is compulsory, even when it is hard. And when we absolutely know it’s God’s will for us we will receive the grace to show compassion– just like Jesus did when he asked his Father three times to relieve him of His burden.
Jesus gave us another instance of compassion when hanging and dying on the cross. He says in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” In addition, Matthew 27:46 records Jesus saying, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” which signaled that He was dying a human death separated from God – paying the “death” price for our sins.
During Easter – or the new Passover – the Father and the Son showed compassion to the human race. Through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection they gave us love and compassion not deserved. Both God and Jesus make these events look like they might have been compulsory in one sense. But isn’t this just LOVE beyond our current understanding? Back in the Old Testament God tells Moses “I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty” (Exodus 34: 6-7).
I pray that, as Christ’s followers, we live lives of compassion, which may even appear compulsory, by lavishing unfailing love on others as our creator God has done for us.
He is Risen. He is Risen. Alleluia, Alleluia
Canon William E. Deiss
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