Jesus went to a town called Nain…As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow…When Jesus saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he…touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother (Luke 7.11-15, abridged)
Given the economics of first-century society, this woman, with the deaths of her husband and son, had lost all visible means of support. Jesus, in raising her son from the dead, in very worldly terms, had spared, had saved this woman from daily poverty and peril.
Reflecting on this phenomenal resuscitation from death, in addition to Jesus’ divine, life-giving power, there is, for me, an additional decidedly humanly-attainable element that made the miracle possible: When Jesus saw her, he had compassion for her.
Jesus, as I perceive it, as I believe in him, in a spirit of revolutionary equality in his or in any day and time, reached across the boundaries, the barriers of gender, role, and circumstance to be at-one with this woman.
From the Latin com (“with”) and pati (“to suffer” or from the Greek, pathos = suffering), compassion is a chief – whether theological or philosophical, theistic or humanistic – virtue.
Compassion, in my view and experience, is more vigorous than my sympathy when I suffer like (or in similar fashion as) you. Compassion also is more vigorous than my empathy when I suffer with (in the same place as) you. For compassion calls me, compels me to act to alleviate, if not eliminate your suffering.
Moreover, through the lens of the Golden Rule, I behold this truth: In order for me to act to relieve your suffering, I must maintain an intimate (never denying, alway acknowledging) relationship with my own pain.
Now, when I raise my head, lifting my eyes from the pages of my Bible, I look at a world and, closer at hand, at an America around me. What I, with dismay, oft see is a global and national life rife with the genderal, political, racial, and social tensions that strive to erect (and succeed in erecting) boundaries, indeed, unbreachable barriers between “us” and “them.”
Daily and at manifold moments during each day, I pray that God bestow upon us all a sweet and strong spirit of compassion. And, in the meantime, in those words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, I pray for myself:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Endnote: The Golden Rule: Jesus said, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7.12a)
Illustration: Widow’s Son in Nain, Wilhelm Kotarbiński (1848-1921)