Sunday, May 2, 2010

Be Compassionate as God is Compassionate

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect". (Matthew 5:43-48)

I don't think that Jesus meant that we have to be perfect. Some translations of this passage substitute the word compassionate for the word perfect. We will never be perfect as God is perfect in all things. But we can show compassion to others as God shows compassion to us.

Compassion is an emotion that is a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another; to show special kindness to those who suffer. Compassion essentially arises through empathy, and is often characterized through actions, wherein a person acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for.

The practice of compassion as Jesus talks about it, is not only wanting to ease the suffering of those we love, but even those who mistreat us. That's is a tall order, so how do we do that? Here's a suggestion. When we encounter someone who mistreats us, instead of acting in anger, withdraw. Later, when you are calm and more detached, reflect on that person who mistreated you. Try to imagine the background of that person. Try to imagine what that person was taught as a child. Try to imagine the day or week that person was going through, and what kind of bad things had happened to that person. Try to imagine the mood and state of mind that person was in — the suffering that person must have been going through to mistreat you that way. And understand that their action was not about you, but about what they were going through. Now think some more about the suffering of that poor person, and see if you can imagine trying to stop the suffering of that person. And then reflect that if you mistreated someone, and they acted with kindness and compassion toward you, whether that would make you less likely to mistreat that person the next time, and more likely to be kind to that person. Once you have mastered this practice of reflection, try acting with compassion and understanding the next time a person mistreats you. Do it in little doses, until you are good at it. Practice makes perfect.

Peace and love,


Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things. --Thomas Merton

"Be still and know that I am God"(Psalm 46:10)

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