One of the most important matters in the Christian life is compassion.
I’m not talking about the compassion that we all need from God, but about the compassion that we show on His behalf and because we belong to Him. One of the longest of Jesus’ teachings is about this; it illustrates exactly what I mean, and what we need to do:
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was hungry, and ye gave me food: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came to me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you?
39 Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and came to you?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily [truly] I say to you, Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.
41 Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was hungry, and ye gave me no food: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
There are a lot of different things in play here; Jesus gives one of His longest messages about compassion in the context of His judgment on the nations; there is no reason to think that this is a mere “story,” or parable, just intended to make a point. He was looking into the future, and asking us to go with Him to that final hour when He judges the nations regarding their treatment of Christians. As it's pretty easy to see from current events, everyone except Christians is treated with compassion and care in certain places. That's so much of a truism just before Jesus returns that it becomes a means of distinguishing "who's who" in God's eyes:
Here are some thoughts:
- Jesus expects His people to care for each other, and to see them for who they are. Notice how this is all expressed, with the phrase, “When did we see You…” the message contained in this is that we can actually see Jesus in His suffering people. That is, if we train ourselves to look. In some sense, they are transparent, and He shines through.
- Compassion is felt, but results in action. We can have all the sympathy in the world, but not really be compassionate (sympathy can be one of the cheapest forms of hypocrisy). One of the most interesting phrases in the Bible as it relates to Jesus is, “He was moved with compassion and…” what inevitably follows this phrase is an action. There really is no way around this. If you see with His eyes, you want to exercise compassion, and not only in your mind, but in what you DO. Failing to offer compassion to one of Jesus' followers defines YOU, in a way that you definitely don't want. The result of failed compassion is everlasting judgment and loss.
- However, it's wise to also consider the following: Compassion requires judgment. It’s obvious from the way Jesus is speaking here that He intends for us to know WHO we are helping. The current idea is that we ought to help all the homeless, or all the poor, or all the suffering, or some such thing. I doubt He intended that, since His own ministry was one of constantly choosing people in order to help them. He picked out the one widow whose son had just died in Luke 9:11; He selected the blind man in John 9, and so forth. It’s true, on occasion He healed everyone brought to Him, but we most often see Him picking just one. Did He do that because He thought these were “more worthy?” No. He did that because He saw who they really were, and what the Father intended for their lives (Hence, it's important for us to know that, too, based on what Jesus says in Matthew 25, above). Consider John 5:1 and following: “After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent(disabled) folk, of blind, halt, withered, [waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool, and troubled the water: whoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had] (the bracketed paragraph is not included in most modern versions). A certain man was there, who had an infirmity thirty eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had been like that a long time, he said to him, Do you want to be made whole? The paralyzed man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steps down before me. Jesus said to him, Rise, pick up your cot, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, picked up his cot, and walked...”
- WHY? You may ask. Why did Jesus “pick people?” What about all the rest? Why not heal all of them indiscriminately? Jesus relates this back to the sovereignty of God in Luke 4:25-28--that God gets to choose. For us, the lesson is that each of us has limited time and ability--and we must concentrate ourselves where God directs us, not just jump from thing to thing. Jesus will not condemn us for going where He tells us and doing what He says, and He takes the responsibility for our direction and for selecting our ministries as long as we obey Him.
- EVEN JESUS followed directions, therefore it is certainly right for you to do so: See John 5:19: Then Jesus answered, and said to them (the Jewish leaders), Verily, verily, I tell you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do: for whatever things [the Father] does, these also the Son does. In other words, Jesus' ministry was always directed by the Father, and Jesus submitted Himself to His Father's direction. Philippians 2:5-8 gives the rationale for this. We also exercise compassion when we can, but always under His direction.