Pillars of Christian Character: Compassion
Many years ago, a survivor of a Nazi death camp wrote these embittered words: "Here's to a world that did not care. To those who had eyes but would not see. To those who had ears but would not hear. To those who had voices but would not speak."
Let me ask you a number of questions: When it comes to the people around you, how well do you see? How well do you hear? Do you speak out on the behalf of others? Do you care about people who have been wounded by life and are hurting? Or do you have blinders on that limit the scope of your vision?
These are the questions you must ask yourself this morning as we consider the next Pillar of Christian Character—Compassion.
Our text this morning comes from perhaps the most well-known parable that Jesus ever told—The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Like every story that Jesus tells, he tells it within a context of something that is going on around him. The background for this parable is found just a few verses earlier in the chapter.
Luke 10:25 "And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
A Jewish lawyer was one who would have been well-versed in the Old Testament Books of Moses and Jewish religious law. He knew the Jewish Bible backwards and forwards. He’s one smart man! The lawyer asks a reasonable question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He asks it with an unreasonable motive: It was to tempt the Lord. It’s a word that means to thoroughly test. This guy is not interested in discovering truth. He is interested in having a debate. Jesus answers the question by pointing him back to the law:
Luke 10:26-28 "He [Jesus] said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."
Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 that these two commandments—to love God with every fiber of your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself—are the two greatest commandments and that the whole law hangs on obeying them.
But, the lawyer is not finished. The Bible says that in an effort to justify himself he asks, “OK, just who is my neighbor?” He uses an old debating technique often employed by one who is losing or afraid of losing the argument. He demands of Jesus; “Define your terms! What do you mean by ‘neighbor’?” And of course, the lawyer knows the answer to that question: His neighbors are people just like him. They’re people whom he likes and who like him in return. They’re people who look just like him, and think just like him, and act just like him, and worship the same God he does.
With a smile of smug satisfaction—thinking he is about to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place—he asks the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He should have quite while he was ahead!
It is at this point that Jesus tells a story that leaves the lawyer—and everyone else in the crowd stricken in amazement: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho . . . “ and most of you can pretty well finish the story from there.
What does the parable teach us about compassion?
I. WE MUST BE INSIGHTFUL IN OUR LIVING
- we cannot ignore a hurting world
- ILLUS The following poem appeared in Dimension Magazine some years ago: I need a truer vision, Lord. A vision filled with Thee. To see the needy world again. With eyes willing to see. A world where people are hurting. And hungry every day, A world that's ready and waiting. To hear what You would say. I need a wider vision, Lord, A vision filled with Thee. To see that lonely woman, Down the street from me. The teenager who's all mixed up, The child who's been abused, The day-to-day cares in my neighborhood. Lord, I want to be used. Give me a new vision, Lord. A vision filled with Thee, To see the world and my neighborhood, As Your eyes would see. Help me use my gifts, dear Lord, In ways that glorify You, To act with loving kindness, Toward those with a different view. A truer, wider, new vision, Lord. That's what I need, To carry out Your commands,In word and thought and deed.
A. THE INJURED TRAVELER OF JESUS’ STORY
- “In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30, NIV84)
- the road this man takes was a dangerous road
- it was called The Way of Blood because so many people were bushwhacked along the way by thieves and robbers
- as this certain man makes his way to Jericho, the obvious happens
- he is indeed set upon by highwaymen who rob him of his possessions, strip him of his cloths and beat the tar out him
- the story that Jesus tells could have been ripped right out of the headlines of the Jerusalem Gazette: Prominent Jerusalem resident attacked! Man mercilessly beaten, robbed and left for dead. Citizens insist local politicians take action, (See story page 3)
B. THE INJURED TRAVELERS OF OUR DAY
- we are surrounded in our culture by wounded travelers
- everywhere you look, people are plagued with hardship, despair and discouragement
- some are struck with injuries or illnesses that debilitate them and cause physical pain
- some are dealing with the stigma and scars of emotional pain from a divorce, sexual abuse, or abortion
- some are living in the darkness of addiction and the inability to cope with certain temptations
- some live in spiritual confusion
- the mission of the church—and that translates into the mission of believers—is to reach out with hope to a hurting world
- with infinite love and compassion our Lord understood the human predicament
- He had deep empathy for people;
- he saw their needs
- he saw their weaknesses
- he saw their desires
- and he saw their hurts
- He was concerned about people
- every miracle he performed, He did so because he saw a need in some person’s life
- His concern was always to uplift and never to tear down, to heal and never hurt
- this is what the church today needs to emulate and model
II. WE MUST BE INCOMPARABLE IN OUR COMPASSION
- we must develop a heart of compassion
- “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” (Luke 10:31–33, NIV84)
- it takes courage to care because caring can be dangerous
- it leaves you open to hurt or to looking like a fool, or to being taken advantage of
- have compassion anyway
- “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:9–10, NIV84)
- when the Apostle Paul says let us not be weary in well doing he implies that living a life of compassion can indeed be draining
- ILLUS. A little over a month ago, Pat Robertson uttered a statement that sent shock waves through the Christian community and even stunned the secular media. On September 15, Robertson stunned "700 Club" viewers when he said divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's disease was justified. I was flabbergasted. The Apostle Paul tells the Church: "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” You can't quit your own body with Alzheimer's, so you shouldn't quit your husband's or wife's body either. To condone abandoning one's spouse in the throes of this mind-robbing illness is absurd. While Alzheimer's certainly affects the dynamic of relationships, marriage vows are taken in sickness and in health.
- believers, of all people in the world, have a supernatural strength to draw upon that we might not become weary in well doing
- ILLUS. I love the story a deacon at Flat Creek Baptist Church once shared with me. One of their neighbors was out plowing his fields one spring morning. The spring thaw had just occurred and there were many muddy areas in the field. In one particularly wet place the tractor became stuck in the mud. The harder the farmer tried, the deeper he buried his tractor. Finally, he walked over to his neighbor's to ask for help. “Orlo,” he said, “Can ya help me out? My tractor’s stuck in the mud.” Ralph said the he and his dad and the neighbor went over and looked at the situation. Ralph says, “My dad shook his head, and said, ‘It doesn't look good, but I tell you what. I'll give it a try pulling you out. But if we don't get it out, I'll come sit in the mud with ya!’"
A. THE INJURED TRAVELER WAS A NEEDY TRAVELER
- if anyone needed some compassion, it was this guy
- he had been robbed, stripped, beaten and left in the hot sun to most likely die
- the priest of the story saw the man and went on by
- he’s probably on his way to Jerusalem to take his turn performing his religious responsibility in the temple
- his focus was more on the duty of religion than on devotion to God
- if he had touched the man, according to Jewish law, the priest would have been spiritually ‘unclean’ for seven days
- he placed the temple and its liturgy above the pain and suffering of the traveler
- the Levite was the second man to approach the scene, but he too went on by
- no reason is given for the man’s inaction
- perhaps he was afraid that the thrives were still around
- perhaps he had some urgent business to attend to and was in a hurry
- perhaps he felt the man had deserved his fate
- perhaps the victim of the attack was just too much trouble
- the third man to come upon the injured traveler was a Samaritan
- at the very mention of the word, you would have undoubtedly heard the crowd that Jesus was speaking to gasp!
- all good Jews knew that Samaritans were the bad guys
B. THE SAMARITAN WAS A COMPASSIONATE NEIGHBOR
- the Samaritan is the truly merciful person of the story
- he had a compassionate heart, a helping hand, and unlimited concern
- he gave up personal comfort, physical energy, and valuable time
- the robbers beat their victim up, the priest and Levite passed the victim up, but the Samaritan picked the victim up
- the thief said, “What’s yours is mine, I’ll take it.”
- the priest and Levite reasoned, “What’s mine is mine, I’ll keep it.”
- but the Samaritan said, “What’s mine is yours, we’ll share it.”
- most of us measure our degree of compassion by what it will cost us
- we quickly compute in our minds the cost-to-caring ratio and if the cost is too high we’ll choose not to get involved
- this is what the priest and Levite did
- however, they lost far more by their neglect than the Samaritan did by his concern
- they lost the opportunity to become better men and good stewards of what God had given them
- they could have been a good influence in a bad world, but they chose to fold their arms complacently, smile benignly, and say somewhat sarcastically, “Ask me if I care!”
- Jesus Christ sets the model for active compassion for us to follow
- “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV84)
- this must be our attitude as we look upon a society of helpless and hurting people
C. THE CHURCH MUST BE A BODY OF COMPASSIONATE PEOPLE
- practical love is love that goes into the world and finds people where people are in life
- practical love goes the extra mile with no hesitation
- practical love goes into the world where the rubber meets the road
- practical love can take many forms and appear in many different ways
- practical love is seen in the soup kitchen as food is given to the hungry
- practical love is shown when we enter the hospital room of the sick
- practical love is revealed when we weep with those who have just lost a loved one
- practical love is shown when we sit in mud with a friend who is stuck
III. WE MUST BE INTENSIVE IN OUR CARING
- “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:34–35, NIV84)
- the traveler of our story needed some intensive care
- what the Samaritan did, helps us understand what it means to show mercy
- the Samaritan had no compelling interest in this stranger
- there was no logical reason for a Samaritan to stop and help a Jew
- Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans pretty much reciprocated by hating Jews back
- but mercy does not need a reason to act kindly even toward strangers and enemies
- do you see how Jesus turns the tables on this lawyer who would seek to justify himself?
- the lawyer asks “Who is my neighbor?”
- Jesus tells the story and then asks, “Which of these three men was neighbor to the victim?”
- here then, is the central point of the parable ...
- it is not “Who is my neighbor”?
- it is ”To whom can I show compassion?”
A. THE SAMARITAN’S ACTIONS ILLUSTRATE THE MINISTRY OF KINGDOMS CITIZENS
- The Samaritan Showed Sympathy
- the Samaritan reached out to this man when no one else would do so
- he went out of his way to help a total stranger
- The Samaritan Showed Support
- the Samaritan could have done just enough to get the man help
- but we see the Samaritan going the extra mile for this complete stranger
- he bandaged the traveler’s wounds and used oil and wine from his own goods, to clean and sooth the man’s cuts and abrasions
- The Samaritan Showed Sacrifice
- the Samaritan places the traveler on his own donkey and takes him to an inn where he provides for the man’s care
- he pays for complete room and board for an indefinite period of time and promises to pick up an additional expenses on his way back through
- if you’re going to develop a heart of compassion, you too will have to show sympathy, be supportive, and sometimes even sacrificial in your time and resources
B. CHRIST CALLS US TO CULTIVATE COMPASSION FOR A DYING WORLD
- the dictionary meaning of compassion is a "feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the pain or remove its cause"
- compassion was a significant part of Jesus’ ministry
- it must be a significant part of our
- bottom line, it requires time and effort and resources to be a true Kingdom Citizen because true Kingdom Citizens are people of compassion
Con. An anonymous author once penned these words:
- I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.
- I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
- I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
- I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
- I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
- I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
- You seem so close to God; but I am still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.
Jesus finished the story: vv. 36-37 “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”