As with so many other occasions in the past 100 plus days, we are going to be celebrating Independence Day in a rather unique way because of the pandemic. Maybe it’s a good occasion to try to decipher just what has been going on in this “One Nation Under God” this past month, especially regarding the rioting and looting that hijacked what would have been considered a reasonable expression of grief and shock in the killing of George Floyd. “Wild in The Streets” was the name of a flick that came out in the late ‘60s, and what we recently witnessed could have been called “Part 2” of the same, only with unforeseeable consequences of a newer genre of lawlessness. Though anger could lead to hate, and hate lead to all kinds of extreme violence, the lost opportunity to show compassion, honest justice and mercy was tossed aside, and the animal instincts and brutality manifested showed that it was more than lawlessness –- it was God-less-ness!!
In the Gospels, when Jesus raises someone from the dead, He demonstrates extraordinary compassion. Jesus raises the young man at Nain because of his pity for the widow. He raises Lazarus because he feels compassion for his two sisters. In another story, He raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead because He has compassion on her parents.
There are two aspects of compassion. We could call them the heart and the hands of compassion. Compassion means both the emotion experienced when a person is moved by the suffering of others, and also the act of entering into the suffering of another person with the purpose of relieving it. Compassion is more than a desire: it is also an act of will – a decision to become actively involved in alleviating a person’s suffering.
Jesus’ whole life demonstrated compassion. Jesus cured not just to prove he was God, but because he was God, abounding in love and compassion. Sinners, the sick and relatives of the dead flocked to him because he reached out to touch them.
Compassion is the emotion that links us to those outside ourselves. It enables us, better, it drives us, to go beyond ourselves to the beating pulse of the rest of the world. Compassion is a key dimension of what it means to be fully human, the ability to feel pain that is not our own. We might call it the divine glue of the human race. So, what can you and I do to make compassion more apparent in a world where we see great suffering every day?
First, we can learn to be silent long enough to listen, to hear the cry of the other, to attend to someone else’s needs. Listening is at the center, the very core of compassion. But listening is not enough. Second, we have to be willing to remember the sharp edge of our own past sufferings. To ignore pain or to deny it or suppress it does not prepare us to respond well to what we hear from others. The third dimension of compassion is experience. To get that, we have to step outside our comfort zone – to find our way into the lives of those who suffer. Fourth, we can develop a positive approach to humanity: identifying our hopes for human community, our ideas about the will of God for all humankind and our commitment to translate compassion into action. As Church and as individuals, we can demonstrate God’s love for the world through our own compassionate actions. For us, as Church, all lives matter.