EL CAJON, Calif. (BP) -- When a man I know was a young pastor, he was given a trip to the Holy Land. When his tour group was in Jerusalem, he ventured into the Old City. As he walked, he was shocked by a figure coming toward him. She was tiny, thin and frail, covered in a dirty black robe, with only her hands, eyes and bare feet showing. It was obvious from her creased and leathery skin that she was old -- or perhaps her hard life had aged her beyond her years.
My friend stopped and had only one thought: "This is the poorest person I have ever seen." She was walking quickly, her bare feet barely touching the stone street as she moved silently past. The man turned to watch her disappear into the crowd behind him and felt immediately conflicted. He stood there and allowed the poorest person he had ever seen to go by like she was a piece of video footage on the evening news.
So he prayed: "Lord, if you will let me see that woman again, I will help her. Please let my path cross hers again before I leave this place."
He finished his trek through the Old City and made his way back toward his hotel. His eyes scanned the crowds for the wisp of a woman he had seen before -- and there she was!
He startled her when he motioned to her to stop, and her eyes met his. He held out his hand and said, "Jesus." She took the money he offered her and began nodding and making murmuring sounds, muffled by her robe. Her eyes were smiling at the corners as she again pulled her thin garment tightly around her and disappeared again into her limited world.
Would my friend ever see this woman again? No. Would he have any way to know whether the money he gave her was used for a good purpose? No. Did any of that matter to him at that moment? No. Should it have mattered? No!
What mattered to him at that moment was that he had just come in contact with a desperately poor woman who looked as if she was starving. She had what appeared to be many needs, and he had the ability to meet at least a few of those needs for the next few days. So he did what mattered at the moment -- had compassion on someone God had brought across his path.
In order to see the needs around us, we have to view the world through compassion-colored glasses. As Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, He said it was compassion that caused the Samaritan to stop and help the man who lay injured by the side of the road: "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion" (Luke 10:33).
Compassion is about the moment. Yes, there are longer-term expressions of compassion we can and should make. But there are times in our life when God expects our shoulder to be stained with the tears of a friend or a stranger.
When Jesus arrived at the grave of His friend Lazarus, He wept (John 11:35). His tears vividly illustrate the meaning of compassion: to suffer (passion) with (com). Jesus' tears were a mixture of His own at the loss of His friend and a sharing in the suffering and grief felt by Lazarus' loved ones. If God himself is willing to mingle His tears with those of His earthly friends, how much more are we called to do the same?
It is clear from Scripture that God expects His children to bring the tears of heaven to earth through the exercise of compassion toward others. The compassion Jesus demonstrated is to be continued through those who believe in Him:
-- "Be of one mind, having compassion for one another" (1 Peter 3:8).
-- "Be kind and compassionate to one another" (Ephesians 4:32, NIV).
-- "Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).
-- "Bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2).
The way the world is to know the compassion of Christ is by seeing and experiencing the tear-stained shoulders of His followers.