I don’t have much of a memory of what was happening nationally and internationally in 1995. One vivid memory I do have is of the Oklahoma City Bombing. It wasn’t what I heard that was memorable but what I saw. I saw a photo on the cover of a magazine in a doctor’s office of a firefighter carrying the lifeless body of a child out of the wreckage. In the photo the fireman is fixed on the face of the child and likewise it was impossible for me to stop looking at this photo. What was captured in this snapshot of time was a moment of compassion.
Compassion is when we are able to look at another person and there is a fundamental shift in how we see everything. We are able to see and understand another human’s suffering, brokenness, or lostness. This firefighter was moved to slow down his rescue efforts, remove his gloves, cradle this child, and carry her body in the highest level of dignity.
I was changed. By only seeing a moment of this compassion, I was filled with a desire to use my strength (if God gave me strength like a firefighter) to run to and not from those who are suffering, lost, and weak. To enter into hard and difficult places and be a protector, repairer, and restorer of what has been threatened, broken, and destroyed. Compassion is rightly a compelling reason why many people enter into foster care. It is a reason that I decided to pursue a degree in social work.
Compassion however is not able to fix every wrong and certainly the OKC firefighter’s compassion was limited in that it could not return life to the infant in his arms. We have limits on what we are able to do and in some situations we are powerless.
So is it worth it? Is the motive of compassion worth it when it means going to hard and difficult places where we will come face-to-face with brokenness with no guarantee to fix what has been damaged?
For many reasons but at the top of our list is that compassion is a heart motive that Jesus had when he encountered people like us:
Matthew 9:36 – When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Mark 6:34 – When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
Matthew 23:37 – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”
Jesus has love and compassion for people who are in hard and seemingly impossible situations. Jesus entered into this darkness because he so loved the world. He brings healing, forgiveness, and restoration in measure infinitely greater than what any of us deserve.
Even more, Jesus has power to raise the dead. Meditate on these Biblical passages for a minute:
Luke 7:13-15 – And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Luke 8:53-55 – “And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once.”
John 11:43-44 – “When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Like the OKC firefighter, we have limits on what we are able to do through our own compassion and power. That is why we must bring people to Jesus who declared “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25-26) and who has the power over death, which he demonstrated again and again and who was raised himself to prove that he could not be held by death.
We enter into the hard experiences of others not because we can save them but because we know the one who can. We know that what is impossible with man IS possible with God. We enter in because Jesus enters in. We herald the words of Jesus that we just meditated on:
“Do not weep.”
“Young man, I say to you, arise.”
“Lazarus, come out.”
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
This is true compassion.