In my previous post, I unpacked the word "compassion" in the context of the Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan. Compassion means "to suffer alongside with." Jesus uses this word in another popular and powerful story, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
In the story, a father provides everything his children could need, but it's not enough for one of the sons (and not enjoyed by the other.) The youngest son takes his inheritance early, leaves town, and goes and parties himself into poverty and desperation. In the midst of his mess, he has a moment of clarity where he realizes being a servant back home is better than the situation he found himself in. He packs up his bags and heads home. But how would the father, who had been severely insulted and embarrassed by the son, respond?
"While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20)
What stands out most to me in this part of the story is that his father was waiting for him to come back. We don't have a clear picture of how long it had been since the son left, but the father believed he was coming back. He expected it. He hoped for it. And he celebrated it.
Being compassionate means that you believe the best in a person is possible. That there is more to their story than you can currently see. That change and growth are possible.
I have a problem sizing people up too quickly and moving on. I have a problem writing off people as "just a ______." (you could fill in the blank with any insult or label you want.)
The problem with the word "just" is that people are complex. They are works in progress. There's a lot of context and backstory and history and nuance to label anyone "just a" anything. It certainly doesn't move the conversation or relationship forward.
Going back to the story of the Prodigal Son, I can imagine many the father's friends or family saying to him, "Sorry, your son is just a loser. He just doesn't appreciate you or what you have done for him and the best thing you can do for you is move on and forget him. He's just going to break your heart. It is what is." What if the father had bought into that?
Compassion tells me to slow down, have patience, assume the best intentions, and don't give up on a person. And that I do those things out of a deep reservoir of love for that person, not out of pity or some type of self-righteousness. I have this kind of compassion for others because this kind of compassion has already been given to me by God (and countless others.)
Compassion demands hope.