The Compassion of a Suffering God
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - July 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Little Sally was asked by her mother why she was late from school. Sally said, “I was on my way home when I saw Dona crying because her doll got broken.”

Sally’s mother asked, “Why then are you late?  What did you do?”

Sally said, “I sat down and cried with her.”

In today’s Gospel, the lawyer had asked: “Who is my neighbor? Whom must I treat as a friend?  What are the limits of my responsibility?  Whom do I exclude: Foreigners? Non-Pharisees?  The son of darkness? Heretics? Personal enemies?”

The priest saw the dying man.  And he walked on the other side of the road.  The Levite saw the dying man, and he passed by.  The Samaritan stopped to help. 

Of course, the priest and the Levite could think of excuses.  They were going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the temple.  Or, the dying man could be a trick of the robbers to trap a victim.

It was a Samaritan, the traditional enemy of the Jews, who stopped to help. 

Jesus asks: “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor?”  The question has transferred the focus from the object of mercy to its subject.  The focus is no longer on the one who hurts, but on the one who heals. 

The question now is “Am I a neighbor?”  And that question revolves around a single word:  compassion.  The Samaritan, when he saw the Jew beaten half to death, “had compassion.”

You and I speak of the heart as the seat and source of our emotions, our feelings.  If I am frightened, my heart is in my mouth.  If I love you, I love you with all my heart.  If I weep for you, my heart goes out to you.

For the same purpose, the Jews used a figure that sounds strange to us.  Where we say “heart” they often say “bowels” or “bituka.”  They spoke especially of the bowels of love and affection, the bowels of mercy, sympathy, and compassion.  For as with us, so with them, these are feelings that come from deep within us.

I prefer the word “Compassion” to “Mercy” or “Pity.”  Oftentimes they can mean the same thing. But sometimes “Mercy” and “Pity” may come from a sense of complacency and condescension.  I am in a superior position when I extend mercy and pity to someone who is at a disadvantage.  He owes me.  I’m the patron.

“Compassion” comes from the deepest recesses of one’s being.  We suffer with – we feel the situation of the person in need.  When God has compassion for us – he becomes one of us.  He feels our pain, our hurts, and struggles.  He is one with us – even if he does not solve our problems for us. He feels with us in our helplessness.  We can find strength and hope in his compassion wherever we are.

There is something more remarkable still about this biblical word “compassion.”  When it is used in the Gospels, it is used only of God the Father or of Jesus Christ.

There is but one exception: the Good Samaritan.  When the Samaritan came upon the wounded Jew, he was “moved by the bowels of compassion.”  Like God, like the God-man, the Samaritan had “compassion” to the depth of his being.

This tells us something significant about God, about Jesus, and about ourselves.  It tells us that God has compassion for our wounded-ness, in the only way God can, with the whole of His being, the totality of His Godness. 

Psalm 103 sings:

“The Lord is merciful and gracious,slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… He does not deal with us according to our sins.” 

This is the loving Lord that proclaimed to a despairing Israel: “Can a woman forget her babythat she should have no compassion on the child of her womb?”

In Jesus, God’s compassion took flesh.  Jesus is God with us.  In Him God enters history as a suffering God, a God who wore our weaknesses, felt our fright, and swallowed out bitter cup of rejection and loneliness.

If to be a Christian is to put on Christ, then to be a Christian is to clothe you in His compassion. To feel hurt is to be human; to link that hurt to that of others is to be Christlike.  But the compassion of the God-man is not only our model to imitate; it is the very source and possibility of our compassion. 

Your compassion not only reflects His; it is a sharing therein, a sharing in the compassion of God.  He makes it possible. 

The Gospel says, “Go and do likewise.”  It is addressed to your native, natural, inborn powers.  The teaching of the parable is twofold:

First, Jesus teaches us that Christian love doesn’t know boundaries.   Christian love doesn’t distinguish between Filipino, Chinese, American, or Spanish.  It doesn’t distinguish between the weak and the powerful.

Second, Jesus teaches us that when we see a distinction made between nationalities, rich and poor, young and old, weak and powerful we cannot sit idly by in some comfortable corner and continue to enjoy our own thing with complacency.

That is what Jesus teaches us in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  This is the message that the Church repeats for us in today’s liturgy.  And so today’s Gospel invites us to ask ourselves the same questions that the parable raises.

First, it invites us to ask ourselves: Do we tend to distinguish between nationalities, rich and poor, young and old, the weak and the powerful?  In other words – to what extent do we tend to be like the Levite and the priest in Jesus’ parable?

Second, Jesus’ parable invites us to ask ourselves: Do we tend to sit idly when we see someone in need or someone treated badly? 

In other words to what extent do we tend to be like the priest and the Levite, who walked on; who failed to help; who refused to get involved when they saw someone treated badly.

My sisters and brothers, today’s parable does not exhort us to go out, risk our lives, and become heroes.  It simply invites us to reach out, risk our comfort, and become involved.  It asks us to take to heart Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

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