Jesus looked on the crowds and,
seeing they were like sheep without a shepherd,
had compassion on them.
In my fifty-three years of following Jesus, my compassion for people has grown.
The word compassion means to feel with others. Jesus told me, years ago, that my capacity for feeling with others must increase. Here is one way Jesus has mentored me in compassion.
I had just finished my seminary degree. My plans were to go immediately to a doctoral program. This did not happen. I applied to two universities. Both applications were too late. I would have to take a year off my studies.
I needed a job. My sister-in-law Lora was working as a teacher at United Cerebral Palsy Center of Will County, Illinois. She suggested I apply as a teacher's assistant.
I interviewed with the Director of the United Cerebral Palsy Center. Her name was Gretchen Lantz. For part of the interview she took me to the boys' bathroom. She said, "I don't want to mislead you. You will be spending a lot of time in this room toileting handicapped boys and young men."
I took the position. Over the next year I fell in love with students like James, Helen, David, Jimmy, Tony, James, and Gail. My heart aches a bit as I write these names. I grew to feel with them. That feeling is still part of me. Jesus, my Lord and Teacher, had a brilliant idea for me. He was mentoring me in having a heart of compassion.
When the year was over, I enrolled in a doctoral program at Northwestern University. I continued working as a teacher's assistant at the Cerebral Palsy Center for two additional summers. The disabled students had become my instructors.
I began to look at others in order to understand, not judge. The more understanding I gained, the more I felt with them. Just as Jesus is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” so am I.
This is how disciples of Christ feel. Apprentice yourself to Jesus, and you will experience the same.
I would not be Jesus's disciple if I looked down on the people Jesus came to rescue. In my weakness, Jesus came to me and loved me. In the same way, I am to love others.
Disciples of Christ go deeper. This is where the Pharisee missed it, as he said, “Thank God that I am not like these other horrible people.” He failed to understand that he was. The result was, no compassion.
The secret to a compassionate heart is understanding. The more I comprehend about a person, the more I feel as they feel. The more I feel as they feel, the more I love.
I want to be more like Jesus! He sympathizes with my weaknesses. His influence causes me to grow in compassionate understanding of others. Who am I to look down on others in their infirmities?
My dear brothers and sisters, I long for this to be your experience.
I am increasing in compassion towards others.
I focus on understanding people, not judging them.
I know that understanding always precedes evaluation.
My heart goes out to people who are struggling.
I am a rescuer of people.
As a student in the School of Jesus, I am learning how to love as Jesus loves.
(From my book 31 Letters to the Church on Discipleship.)