Marcus Borg, a progressive Christian scholar who has shaped my thinking about what it means to live as a follower of the Way of Jesus, taught that “compassion is the central virtue of a life centered in God as known in Jesus.” Further, he suggests that although Luke 6:36 is typically translated “be merciful as God is merciful,” a better translation given the meaning we assign to words in our contemporary culture would be “be compassionate as God is compassionate.”
We know compassion when we see it, and if we open our eyes we realize it is all around us. Earlier in the week I crowd sourced a list of compassionate people. That diverse list included well-known people like Pope Francis and Jimmy Carter alongside those that lack name recognition like a close friend and a grandmother. It also included the Boston Marathon bombing victims and their families who are pleading to spare the bomber from facing the death penalty.
Perhaps an attempt to define compassion is warranted. The always thoughtful and typically thought provoking Presbyterian minister and prolific author Frederick Buechner suggests
Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.
How might we practice this virtue? For those among us for whom feelings and emotions are private or underdeveloped, what simple steps might we follow? Could compassion really be as easy as 1-2-3?
John Philip Newell, the author of the new book The Rebirthing of God that inspired this sermon series, believes it can. He proposes that compassion calls us to move from the courage to see to the . . (read manuscript or watch video)
Being compassionate is a part of being a follower of the Way of Jesus. Whether it comes naturally to you or not, it is a quality and a way of being that should be developed over a lifetime.
- How do you define compassion?
- Share the names of a few people you consider exemplars of compassion.
- Is the 1-2-3 approach of the “courage to see, courage to feel, and courage to act” helpful to you? Explain.