Colorful Compassion

What Jesus praised as the very paragon of love is compassion across boundaries of difference.

I find this fascinating: When Jesus was asked to illustrate what loving others was all about, he painted a cross-racial picture. He told a surprisingly colorful (and scandalous) story about a marginalized Samaritan who lavishly loved a more privileged Jew.

While both the priest and the scribe walked by the victimized man on the street, it was the Samaritan who stopped and did something different. The difference was the Samaritan had compassion (Luke 10:33). Apparently, it’s the demonstration of compassion—especially across boundaries of difference—that characterizes genuine, Jesus-style love of neighbor.

The Greek verb translated “had compassion” is splanchnizomai—a visceral word from which we derive the word spleen. It refers to our inward body parts: our intestines, heart, core, gut. In the Scriptures, splanchnizomai implies a strong, gut-level connection with suffering along with a commitment to alleviate it. To have compassion is to suffer with. According to Compassion International, “compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering. … Compassion gets involved. When others keep their distance from those who are suffering, compassion prompts us to act on their behalf.”

Martin Luther King Jr. called us to the God-centered dream of becoming a “beloved community”—a colorful community whose members love each other well across all boundaries of difference—race, class, age, ability and beyond. Such a community can only be achieved through the cultivation of colorful compassion, love that is willing to suffer in solidarity with and for those who are not like us.

Many of the divisions of our world today can only be addressed through the demonstration of compassion across boundaries of difference. They can only be addressed as we express willingness to enter into, understand and empathize with the stories of others. As we do, we must listen carefully for suffering and then be willing to demonstrate colorful compassion, to enter in and give sacrificially to address that suffering. Anything less falls short of the love of God.

Did the Samaritan agree with the Jew on everything? Of course not. They were not of the same ethnicity. They were almost certainly not of the same “political party.” Undoubtedly, their team mascots wore different colors. If they had met somewhere else, there would likely be tension between them. But that is precisely the point—true love is willing to suffer—sacrifice even, and perhaps especially—across boundaries of difference.

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Disciples are called, of course, to love everyone—those who are like us and those who are not. Yet the blunt fact is that loving those like us is easy. “Even pagans do that” (Matt. 5:47). What Jesus praised as the very paragon of love is colorful compassion across boundaries of difference.

We are not called to comfortable discipleship. We are called to compassionate, colorful discipleship expressed both toward people who are like us and also toward people who are not. We are called to carry the cross like our Savior, entering into the suffering of others and sacrificing on their behalf.

Self-interest is normal and natural, but disciples are called to that which is supernatural. When it comes to the differences that divide us and the misunderstandings that alienate us, disciples are called to cultivate colorful compassion, not merely looking to our own interests but also to the interests of the others (Phil. 2:4). We love because Christ first loved us—and actively lavished upon us colorful compassion without measure.

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