Competition vs Compassion

Competition v. Compassion. Think about that comparison. Competition v Compassion. Where do we stand when we see others?  From a young age, our society cultivates and instills in us the spirit of competition. I want to do better than others. Why do they have more than me? How can I win! Our American, individualistic spirit pushes us inward toward our ego. Me against the world. The spirit of competition!

Jesus, on the other hand, surely didn’t compete against others, and never pushed his followers to compete with one another. Instead of viewing the world through the lens of competition, he saw the world with compassion. He looked at the other not as a foe, but as a friend in need of help. He wanted to bring out the best in others; he saw the beauty in others; he tried to understand the struggles of others. He empathized with those He met, entering into their world of struggle, suffering, need, while helping them become “winners” in life.

A compassionate worldview is quite different from a competitive worldview!

Compassion implies a consciousness or awareness of the need of others, and a desire to help them in their struggles, alleviating their suffering. It’s not important for ME to win over you, as much as it is for me to understand YOU and to help YOU get better.

In the life of Christ, we see how he compassionately deals with others. A good example is in today’s gospel story, where Jesus encounters a very desperate situation. A widow who has just lost her only son. A widow in Jesus’ time was probably one of the most marginalized and desperate people in society. She had no husband, no protector or provider, no support and little hope. This particular widow had an only son in whom she placed her hope, and then even he was gone.

As the funeral crowd walked with the woman to bury her only son, the Gospel says, “Jesus saw her and had compassion on her.” Jesus saw her situation and understood. He empathized with her in her distress and pain, comprehending her situation. He saw her hopelessness and wanted to help. And he did. He raised the dead son back to life, and gave him back to his mother.

This story is followed in the Gospel of Luke by another interchange highlighting our Lord’s compassion on those around him. When John the Baptist was arrested and languishing in prison, he wasn’t quite sure if Jesus was the actual Messiah. Either that, or he wanted to help his disciples understand that Jesus was actually the Messiah. In either case, St John sent his followers to Jesus to ask him whether He truly is the Christ, the anointed One. To which Jesus responds, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22)

Think about that description of Jesus’ life and ministry. He reaches out to all those in the most desperate need – the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, those who are poor, and even the dead – people with little hope for a better life. They all are desperate. Life is a great challenge for them., and there seems to be little hope, that is until Jesus comes along. First, Jesus understands and empathizes with them, and then He reaches out and heals them. Ultimately, Christ even does something greater. He suffers (on the Cross) with those who suffer, He experiences the pain of the forgotten and broken, and then he lifts all humanity up!

The word compassion comes from the latin word which means “to suffer with.” Here is the deepest meaning of compassion. It is not simply doing good for another, but it is entering into another’s pain and suffering, into their fear and brokenness, empathizing with them and then walking with them toward a path of healing.

Henri Nouwen reflects on compassion in this way: “When I pray for the endless needs of the millions, my soul expands and wants to embrace them all and bring them into the presence of God. But in the midst of that experience, I realize that compassion is not mine but God’s gift to me. I cannot embrace the world, but God can. I cannot pray, but God can pray in me. When God became as we are . . . He allowed us to enter into the intimacy of the divine life. He made it possible for us to share in God’s infinite compassion. And by grace we not only share the experience of God’s compassion, but by his enabling grace we can become the conduits of that compassion, following in Christ’s footsteps as did a host of our spiritual forbears.”

We, Christ’s followers, are called to be conduits of His compassion to the world. Maybe we can’t perform miracles of healing, as Jesus did, but we can walk with those who suffer, journey with those who struggle, empathize with those in despair, listen to those who are in desperate need. Compassion is the hallmark of a follower of Jesus!

As individuals, each of us should strive every day to be instruments in God’s hand, bringing His compassionate love to everyone we meet. And as a Church Family, we are called in a communal way to reach out to the world with compassion.

And I thank God when I see how we strive to do this as a community. We go to Project Mexico, building homes for the needy and building relationships with the boys in the orphanage. We participate in Habitat for Humanity, building hope for families on the margins of society. And yesterday, we started a new ministry of compassion when we began our “Living Bread Luncheon.” It was quite beautiful to see 30 volunteers from our church come together to prepare and serve a beautiful meal to our Webster community. For our first luncheon, we had 30 volunteers serving 35 guests who came to our home here and enjoyed not only a delicious meal, but more importantly, Christ-centered and loving hospitality. So many of the guests commented to me how much they enjoyed the food, but also how friendly, loving and kind everyone was.

I was proud, once again, of our Church Family. We reached out in compassion to the community at large. Of course, it was only one simple meal, but it was the start of something special. Or really, it was the continuation of something we started in Mexico. This spirit of loving compassion, reaching out to others, entering into their suffering and walking with people.

This is our call as followers of Jesus Christ. He is the all-compassionate one. He reaches out to each one of us everyday with love and mercy, with kindness and goodness, with charity and grace. We are then called to go forward as His ambassadors, showing the same compassion to the world around us. Life is NOT about competition, but all about compassion!

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