I once heard a combat veteran say, “Fear is an instinct. Courage is a choice.” I wish helping others were an instinct for me instead of a second choice. I wish I were—like the Good Samaritan and the Lord—afflicted with compassion.
Last winter, the morning after it snowed, (Michigan here!) I was on my way to The Wooden Shoe (Michigan here!) to meet a friend for breakfast. Going east on 17th Street I saw the blinker lights of a car sticking out into the roadway.
A guy had pulled out of his driveway (most likely on his way to work) and cut the turn too soon. His passenger-side tire got hung up in the snow pile. He was shoveling—in the dark—with one of those pointed dirt shovels.
I drove around him and kept on going.
Why Didn’t’ I Help Him?
As I was waiting for the light at 16th and Columbia, it hit me. “What did I just do? I drove around that guy. Why didn’t I stop to help him?
All he needed was me to push while he straightened the wheel and hit the gas. If that didn’t work, that’s why I always carry a towing strap in my truck.” And then, totally heartless, “He’s probably out by now.”
The light changed. I turned. A half-block later it hit me again. “Why didn’t I help him?” My first thought had been not to be late for breakfast. (There’s no way you’d get mad if I came ten minutes late because I helped somebody, right?)
The Good Samaritan
By the time I got to the highway, I was deep into the story of the Good Samaritan. It was like a drum beat: “He happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.” He passed by on the other side. He passed by on the other side
Happened, Ren? Now you’re believing in “happened?”
I got to the restaurant and sat down, primly on time. Then I got a text from my friend. “I’m stuck behind a plow, and I’ll be ten minutes late.”
Oh sure. Rub it in, Holy Spirit.
Afflicted in Compassion
Good Samaritans are instinctive. “He saw him and he took pity on him and he went to him and he bandaged his wounds.” This ordained priest-Levite envies that unnamed ordinary layman.
When I was serving in Africa, a village teacher preached about the Good Samaritan. His point was how brave the Samaritan was. If the police came while he was with the victim, they would have (typically) charged him with the crime. Yet instinctively he saw and cared and went and helped.
In the Gospels, “compassion” is based on a word that means our deepest, innermost, unseen organs. We’re close when we talk about “gut-wrenching.” It’s not a comfortable wish as we drive through the neighborhood. It’s not inward censure as we listen to the results of someone’s poor choice. It’s not being “thankful they’re not my kids.” Compassion is “in all their afflictions, He was afflicted.”
Compassion is an Action
The teaching moment of the word is that it is never used apart from some action! Jesus had compassion and fed them. Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. Jesus had compassion on the crowd and healed their sick. Jesus had compassion on her and touched the coffin. Even in the parable about the Prodigal: the father (Father!) saw him and had compassion on him and ran to him and hugged him and kissed him.
Paul says that because we are convinced that we are dearly loved by God, when we get dressed in the morning, we put on compassion along with everything else.
Think of that word: com-passion. “Passion” means a deep feeling. “Com” means together with. What will we put together with our deep feeling?
The opportunities are all around us. Beginning with ourselves! Can you be compassionate with you? And then our inner circle: who in our family and on our staff and in our group needs some gutfeel today?
And has the world around us ever needed more to be noticed and approached and ministered to?? What a great time to be dressed with com-passion!
Prayer: Jesus, I want Your instinctive compassion. Help me to see and care and go and do, and love my neighbor as myself. (Haunting question: Why didn’t I?)