Best of Daily Reflections: Setting the Compassion Bar Very High
"You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate."
When I was in high school, I was a member of the track team. I didn't excel in any particular event, though I was decent enough to compete in several, including the high hurdles, the shot put, and the high jump. To improve in these events, I needed to continue to surpass my previous personal best. In high jump, this meant positioning the bar over which I was to jump higher than I had ever jumped before. But if I put the bar too high, I would be intimidated and quickly become discouraged. So the secret was to move the bar up by tiny increments.
When it comes to compassion, Jesus dispenses with the tiny increment strategy. He says in Luke 6:36: "You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate." Jesus sets the compassion bar as high as it could be set. We're to imitate the uniquely excellent compassion of God.
The Greek word oiktirmos, which is translated here as "compassion," can also mean "mercy." It shows up in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, in verses such as Psalm 51:1: "Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins" (50:3 in the Septuagint). Another use of the word appears in Psalm 69:16: "Answer my prayers, O LORD, for your unfailing love is wonderful. Take care of me, for your mercy is so plentiful" (68:17 in the Septuagint).
Notice that God's oiktirmos is both great and plentiful. According to Jesus, we are to imitate this extraordinary quality of God's character and activity. We are to be compassionate and merciful in the way God is compassionate and merciful to us. Talk about setting the bar high!
How is this possible? How can we imitate God's compassion? How can we treat others with God-like mercy?
Though we can never match God's oiktirmos, when we experience it in our own lives, we are prepped to give it away to others. The more we sense God's extraordinary compassion and care for others, the more we will begin in some small way to do as Jesus commands us. Moreover, because the very Spirit of God dwells within us, we have access to supernatural help when it comes to doing what would be impossible in our own strength. Though we will never completely clear the high bar of God's compassion and mercy, by God's help, we will be able to feel deeply for others and treat them much better than they deserve.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When in your life have you experienced exceptional compassion and/or mercy from others? When and how have you experienced God's compassion and mercy? Have you exercised mercy recently? Have you felt compassion for others? Are there people in your life to whom you can be merciful today?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, indeed, you set the bar high in Luke 6:36. You call me to be merciful and compassionate even as our Heavenly Father is merciful and compassionate. There is part of me, I must confess, that simply wants to say to you: "Impossible. It can't be done."
Of course, you know this, Lord. You know my limitations and disabilities. Nevertheless, you call me to a high standard, indeed, the highest of all. And you not only call me, but also help me with your example, with your gifts of mercy, and with the Holy Spirit who lives within me. In response to your compassion and with the help of your Spirit, I can begin to exercise a God-like mercy in my life, however fallibly and incompletely.
Show me, Lord, those for whom I should feel compassion today. Help me to express this compassion through acts of mercy. May I see with your eyes those who are around me, so that I might know, not only who needs mercy, but also how best I might show mercy.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, because you embody the mercy of God, most of all through your sacrificial death for me. Amen.