An Emotional Response2
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them …
- from 1 John 3:16-17
The twist in today’s passage is that the active response John wants when those of us who have material possessions see a brother or sister in need is not immediate financial intervention. No, he wants our hearts to move.
Pity. Concern. Compassion. John’s use of the Greek here actually slips into a metaphor which suffers in translation but might be rendered something like: “sees a brother or sister in need but closes his bowels against him/her.” One can understand why the translators went a different direction (and why we don’t do our own translations of the Greek text).
John wants us to have an emotional response to the needs we see.
By and large, we have replaced an emotional response with a systematic response. We automate our giving. We make donations and contributions in response to great global needs but do so via clean and abstract media: credit cards and websites and text-to-give programs. All too often we find ourselves averting our eyes when needs appear because we don’t want our heart-strings to get tugged. Who knows what might come tumbling out of us?
In a way, compassion is the most important action in the face of need. Compassion fuels every other action. Compassion helps us listen and learn and pay attention to whether our efforts to help are really helping. And compassion – deep, meaningful, from-the-gut compassion – makes it easier for the people we’re helping to receive our help.
We know this from experience. When we’re in need, we don’t want someone to help us mechanically. When we’re desperate, we want empathy. We want someone to show us the respect of acknowledging our difficulty and the emotional aspect of it all. We’re so much more willing to receive from someone who has compassion on us.
Where are you struggling from compassion fatigue? How have you built buffers around yourself that have closed you off from feeling concern for your brothers and sisters in need? What would happen if you asked Jesus to give you the strength to feel and to open up to your brothers and sisters?