Everyone Needs Compassion (except myself)




Everyone needs compassion,
Love that's never failing;
Let mercy fall on me.


Ben Fielding/Reuben Morgan © 2006 Hillsong Publishing


I need help with my homework… I’ve been set a challenge by the person helping me to work through the mess in my head, to do a Biblical exegesis on compassion and, more specifically, self-compassion, in scripture… And the thing is, it’s not going well…
I’m enjoying the challenge… and there’s plenty of really good stuff to be drawn from it, particularly on the compassion of Jesus… (Congregation beware, I feel a sermon or two coming on). In the Old Testament compassion is seen as a synonymous term for mercy or pity, and it can be a human or divine attribute, although at times God's compassion can seem a little arbitrary eg. Exodus 33: 19 “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”. Paul tends to use the more commonplace Greek word for compassion/pity/mercy which equates fairly well with the Old Testament concept, but the Greek word which is most frequently translated as compassion in the Gospel, splanchnizomai, holds within it the idea that compassion is something that grips the very viscera of Jesus…
Time and again the gospels tell us that Jesus “had compassion on them/him/her” - delete as applicable (Matthew 9: 36; 14: 14; 15: 32; 20: 34, Mark 6: 34, 8: 2) or that he was “filled with compassion” (Mark 1: 41 a phrase which is also used to describe the feelings of the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 20). It is an unusual word in Greek, indeed it may have been coined by the writer of Mark’s Gospel to express the depth of Jesus pity, drawing on a word that usually referred to the bits of a sacrificial animal reserved for Zeus, the most high god of the Greeks.
But therein lies part of my problem… I’m so wedded to a theology of Jesus as the sacrificial, suffering servant, that seeking to be, in Graham Kendrick's words, a "servant of the servant king" means self-compassion can often take a back seat in seeking to serve others… The suffering servant passages of Isaiah are jam-packed with references to compassion on others (Isaiah 49: 13; 51: 3; 54: 7-10; 60: 10 & 63: 7) but the servant takes a terrible beating because of his compassion and calling. Indeed I can find no explicit scriptural references to self-compassion…
Does that mean that I have Biblical warrant to beat myself up when I invariably fail to live up to my own exacting standards, never mind God’s? I have spent a lifetime living by a code of “no matter how hard anyone else is on me, I’m harder.” That’s how I’ve achieved what I have… but its also what has driven me to the edge of complete collapse. That sort of a mindset, wedded to a sacrifical servant theology and a messiah/superman complex, where I (like many pastors/care professionals) am sure that I have/am the answers to everyone's problems is very, very dangerous...
Everyone needs compassion, don’t they?

Comments

Its interesting that I wrote this piece yesterday as I was doing my "homework" for therapy today then this morning, as I sat down to prepare the Bible Study for tomorrow, where we are starting to look at the Book of Philippians, I read
"how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus."
Phil 1:8 (RSV)
where the word for "affection" is drawn from the word "splanghnon"/spleen or as the AV puts it "bowels" of Christ Jesus... Most commentators put this within the wider context of the mutual love and compassion of Paul for the Philippians and vice versa, which may go some way to answering my question. Its not an issue of self-compassion at all, but mutual compassion, with us loving one another and seeing ourselves through other's loving eyes... I love coincidences like this...
And another... the next morning in my email from sojourners' "Verse and Voice" I read this:
"Compassion for the other comes out of our ability to accept ourselves. Until we realize both our own weaknesses and our own privileges, we can never tolerate lack of status and depth of weakness in the other."
- Joan Chittister

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