... to be inside another’s skin is part of the definition that theologian, Frederick Buechner, gives for the word, “compassion.” Jesus was one who especially seemed to put this practical capacity at the heart of eternal human hope.
The good Samaritan, the woman caught in adultery, feeding of the multitudes, water into wine, Jesus’ response to Mary and Martha upon the death of Lazarus, the bleeding woman in the crowd, the thief on the cross, and more; compassion appears to be a cornerstone life-practice at the heart of Christian teaching and spirituality. Throughout Jesus’ life, sharing compassion with an other, becomes the doorway through which God’s intended future inhabits the world.
Such transformative power of practicing compassion is more universally known beyond just the Christian community, though. Modern and ancient Buddhist leaders maintain compassion as a path to enlightenment. Hindu practice places great emphasis on compassion as a daily and descriptive quality of the faithful. Ancient Jewish stories are filled with the wisdom of compassion as a means to embodying the faith.
Christian scriptures would dare to suggest that even above right belief, pious worship or church membership -- it may be a life of humble compassion that more clearly shapes and describes our eternal future. In the Gospel of Matthew (25: 31-46) , we have been reminded that our own ability to enjoy God’s compassionate grace is actually a mutual proposition; somehow related and (dare I say) dependent upon our everyday practice of pragmatically caring for even just one of the world’s least, last and lost who might otherwise have no hope amidst the wider human family.
Could it be, then, that compassion is less an optional spiritual practice to consider integrating into our spiritual lives, and more a description of how every life is meant, and called by God, to be lived?
The capacity for feeling what it is like ...