A central theme in the Gospel of Luke and a very good one for Lenten meditation is the notion of compassion. More than any other Gospel, Luke reveals the compassionate nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus said it emphatically and without mincing his words: “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36, New Jerusalem Bible). The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, which taken together mean “to suffer with.” Compassion asks us to enter into another’s pain, to share in their suffering, to feel their brokenness, fear, confusion and anguish. For Jesus, however, compassion was not just a feeling. It translated itself into action. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals and cares for the downtrodden, the poor and oppressed. Jesus showed his followers that compassion is inherent to discipleship. He did not reach down and lift the poor up from above either. He became poor. He suffered with the poor. He chooses pain, rejection, persecution, and death rather than the path of “upward mobility” toward power, authority, influence, and wealth. It is this “downward mobility” that led to his own passion, death and subsequent resurrection and redemption for all.
Jesus’ path of downward mobility differs from the common notion today that compassion means helping those less fortunate than we are. It is a particularly privileged notion to think that if we volunteer in a soup kitchen or donate money to help others, we have been compassionate. To be clear, these actions are important and valuable ways of serving others. But when we are able to maintain our distance or stay in a place “above” those we serve, such acts easily become acts of pity, rather than compassion. This is the problem with the idea of serving “those less fortunate.” We are somehow “more” and “they” are somehow “less.” We have all the power. “They” have none.
Genuine compassion, as embodied by Jesus, runs counter to our culture’s concept. Christ’s compassion is a call to suffer “along with” those who are powerless. Compassion is at the heart of the Christian stewards’ life. It is an expression of God’s love for us and our love for God and each other. Perhaps during this Lenten season we can place compassion front and center in our spiritual lives. What better time than the Lenten season to consider a radical reorientation toward others. And what better time than Lent to discover the compassion Jesus calls us to embrace.