Saturday, January 12, 2013

What is compassion?

Only Jesus Christ truly understands what compassion is, since only he is capable of pure and perfect compassion.  Owing to his lineage of an immortal, and perfectly compassionate Father and a compassionate mortal mother, the Lord was the only one capable of accomplishing the mission of being our Savior and Redeemer. He is the only one who descended below all things and thus comprehends all things.  All other compassion is but a small reflection of the Lord's perfect compassion.

Then what exactly is compassion?  The word compassion is derived from the Latin "com" meaning "together" and "pati" meaning "to suffer" or "to endure". Thus, compassion literally means "to suffer with" or "co-suffering".  True compassion inspires a sincere desire to alleviate suffering and to act for the benefit and welfare of others.  There is no greater example of such compassion than the Lord Jesus Christ.  His divine compassion has also been described in scripture as "succor" (e.g. see Alma 7:11-12).  To succor literally means "to run to".  Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus Christ succored and had compassion upon his mortal associates.

There is perhaps no greater story of compassion than that recounted by the Lord in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It is interesting to note the circumstances that gave rise to this parable, as well as the ways in which the Good Samaritan is a symbol of Christ himself, and of his atoning sacrifice.

After calling, empowering and instructing the seventy, the Lord rejoiced that His Father had hidden certain truths from the "wise and prudent" and "revealed them unto babes" (see Luke 10).  Then a lawyer tried to tempt the Lord by asking the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

The Lord responded with another question: "What is written in the law, how readest thou?"

The lawyer answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself."

Jesus responded, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."

The lawyer would have been wise to accept this answer, but instead he tried to justify himself by asking, "And who is my neighbor?"

This follow-up question elicited the parable of the Good Samaritan:

 30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and awounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
 33 But a certain aSamaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had bcompassion on him,
 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took acare of him.
 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the ahost, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
 36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
 37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Not long after teaching this parable, the Lord himself went down to Jericho (Mark 10:46Luke 18:3519:1).  Near Jericho, Jesus showed compassion on a blind beggar who was on the side of the road, much like the wounded man in the parable.  Where many a priest and Levite had probably passed by, Jesus paused to heal and bless the beggar. He showed true compassion.

Of course it is also significant that the one who showed compassion in the parable was a Samaritan, a person who was supposed to be a bitter enemy of the Jews.  Like Jesus, this good Samaritan did more than feel compassion for his wounded neighbor.  He bound up his wounds, poured in oil and wine, and provided transportation, lodging, money and merciful attention.

In another sense, the wounded man in the parable could be seen as a symbol of Christ.  After all, not long after leaving Jericho, the Lord would descend into Gethsemane.  He would be scourged and stripped of his raiment.  He would be wounded for our transgressions and lifted up upon the cross. Through the incomprehensible suffering of the Atonement, Jesus Christ is able to feel and demonstrate perfect compassion for all of his creations.  Thank God for this compassion, for no one is exempt from trials, suffering and afflictions.