A Renewal of Compassion – by Ed Dunn

The times in which we live have been, in a word, tough. The last two years have seen radical changes in our health, both mentally and physically, our nation, politically, racially and economically, and our world, as we try to move around it. It’s been easy of late to take up a position on any number of topics, to stop listening altogether to different points of view, and to see large groups of people as “other.” I know I’ve felt a strong pull towards this polarization, and the harmful attitudes that come along with it.

I take public transportation to every destination I can’t get to on foot. Given my eyesight condition, I gave up my driving privileges many decades ago. As a result, the use of trains, buses, taxis and Lyft or Uber have become the main methods of how I get from Point A to Point B. The use of such methods is now completely normal for me.

Anyone who takes public transportation these days can tell you of the frequent intersection this method of travel can create with the homeless population. Cold and wet weather can force the homeless to rush for any open seat in a warm and dry train car or local community bus. Because of this reality, quite often there are few to no seats available for paying customers, and certainly not at a safe social distance.

Overloaded shopping carts, bicycles, trash bags full of recyclables and worn carry-on luggage that often come with the homeless makes moving about a train car or bus aisle next to impossible. The overpowering aroma of poor hygiene and cigarette or marijuana smoke, along with the constant “lines” and “shake-downs” for “any loose change?” are common experiences on most trips I take. At times, I feel so pressed in upon by the unrelenting plight of this population. Sometimes, I’d rather incur the cost of a Lyft or an Uber to get where I’m going, rather than face what is directly in front of me. 

Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate (Luke 6:36, New English Bible).

I must admit, a deep frustration has been growing within me for some time now. I’m truly weary – I’ve begun to close my eyes to the sobering harshness of the homeless population and my ears to their constant, and often crafty, cries for help.  I know this is not the Christ-follower I want to be. As such, the time has come for a renewal of compassion.

Jesus had sincere compassion for the homeless population of his day. Jesus was never blind nor deaf to the sight or sound of their ever-present cries. In story after story, we read that he had deep compassion for the sick, the blind, the poor, the lost and the mentally imbalanced – for all of those who must’ve pressed in on and around him every chance they could.

Luke’s use of the word compassion in Luke 6:36 (New English Bible) carries the meaning of being kind, empathetic and willing to suffer with another. As if we were the other person, we open our hearts to see, hear and feel what they see, hear and feel. Luke’s use of the word compassion carries the honest sense that there go I, but for the grace of God.

Many books of wisdom speak of compassion as somewhat like a treasure – one of the greatest treasures we can have within. Compassion is a treasure because it shows us our true and deep connection to all human beings. Compassion is a treasure because with it, we can see, hear and feel how we are not alone.

As I’ve shared with you before, I am legally blind. If my eyesight were much worse, or if a series of events had gone differently in my life, it could easily be me pulling an overloaded shopping cart, a bag of recyclables or a worn carry-on suitcase onto a busy train car or into a crowded bus aisle. I think about that more than I care to admit. When Christ-in-me stirs his compassion within me, I realize there go I, but for the grace of God.  

As Christ-followers, we know that compassion comes from the indwelling of Christ’s life within us. Compassion comes from his divinity and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, flows into our humanity. By the grace of God, the two work together to transform how we see, hear and feel about others. The two work together to help us put ourselves in another’s place.

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through another’s eyes for an instant? – Henry David Thoreau

Springtime is a time of renewal – a time when we clean house so to speak. We come out of the harshness and darkness of winter and begin a new season of life. Why not allow this springtime to be a time for a renewal of compassion? By God’s grace, that’s my plan. I know I need this.

There are no easy answers for the plight of the homeless population I intersect with on a daily basis. But if I’m not even willing to look, to listen, and to feel, how can I find an intelligent way to help? By Christ’s indwelling life, light and example, I can allow a renewal of compassion to take place within. I can allow that renewal of compassion to soften my sight, to open my ears and to touch my heart in such a way that I can care for others as Christ cares for me. By his transforming work, I can see that although the times in which we live are indeed tough, these times are tougher for some than for others.

Your friend and fellow partner in sharing the gospel,

Ed Dunn

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