If there is one thread that runs through the whole scripture and Christian tradition, it is compassion. That is, feeling with others in their condition and doing something about it. Compassion is not feeling sorry or pity for another person; it should lead to action. Compassion could be described as empathic action towards someone or a group of persons. The other side of compassion is refusing to treat anyone or a group of persons in any way you would not want to be treated yourself. Imagine how our relationships, starting from our families, would be if we truly practiced not treating anyone in a way we would not want to be treated. With the willingness to practice and live this spiritual principle, there will be equally willingness to be more understanding of others, more forgiving, more ready to talk and make amends, more ready to see those in need and reach out to help in whatever way we can, and a profound appreciation of the value of family and friendships as sacred spaces where love is given and received.
In his infinite wisdom, God permitted the people of Israel to experience life in exile, to know what it means to be an alien or stranger in a foreign land, and to go through all forms of oppression at the hand of Egyptians. Now that he has settled them in the Promised Land, he recalls to them their experience in Egypt and then exhorts them: “You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt. You must not be harsh with the widow, or with the orphan; if you are harsh with them, they will surely cry out to me, and be sure I shall hear their cry; …” (Ex. 22:20-22). 500 years before the birth of Christ, Confucius, the philosopher founder of Confucianism had taught his followers to look into their hearts and see the pain they experienced and refuse to inflict the same pain on others. He said that “not feeling compassion for a stranger is like not feeling when one’s foot has caught fire.” Religiously minded people always find in a compassionate mind and heart the real meaning of religion, for compassion is the heart of God. After all, God loves us so much that he gave His Only Son for our sake (Jn. 3:16). All true religion rests on two pillars: love of God and love of neighbor. Everything we do in religion derives from and leads to these two pillars. We recognize that God is our creator; we come from him and are going back to him. We therefore worship and honor him and keep his commandments for our good Then we treat our brothers and sisters, all God’s children with compassion as God wants us to. This is the true meaning of religion.
We are in this world to live a life of compassion. At the end of our lives, the only test we are expected to have passed in this world is the Test on Compassion which comes out as: I was sick and you visited me, I was homeless and you gave me a home, I was hungry and you fed me, I was lost you helped me find my way, I was depressed and you gave me comfort, I felt abandoned and you gave me hope and a sense of direction, I was burdened by shame and guilt and you accepted me and lifted my burden; I messed my life up but your love brought me back on track, etc. (see Mt. 25:31-46). As a Church, we are a family of God’s children learning each day to worship God and to spread God’s compassionate love in the world. This is who we are as a parish. I pray we all make a conscious decision to practice compassion to our brothers and sisters so that we will be true faces of God in this world. Amen