Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Cost of Compassion

How much does it cost to be compassionate? Two passages by John, both with the reference of 3:16, one in the Gospel and the other in his first Epistle, portray the cost of love and compassion. 1 John 3:16 says, "We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Henri Nouwen, Roman Catholic pastor, author, and missionary, tells of how he learned a valuable lesson about love and compassion when he was thirteen years old. It was during the last year of the Second World War and his father had given him a little goat to care for. They lived in a part of Holland that was isolated by the great rivers from the D-day armies. Provisions did not reach them and people were dying from hunger.

"I loved my little goat," he writes. "I spent hours collecting acorns for him, taking him on long walks, and playfully fighting with him, pushing him where his two horns were growing. I carried him in my arms, built a pen for him in the garage, and gave him a little wooden wagon to pull. As soon as I woke up in the morning, I fed him, and as soon as I returned from school I fed him again, cleaned his pen, and talked to him about all sorts of things. Indeed, my goat Walter and I were the best of friends.

One day, early in the morning when I entered the garage, I found the pen empty. Walter had been stolen. I don't remember ever having cried so vehemently and so long. I sobbed and screamed from grief. My father and mother hardly knew how to console me. It was the first time that I learned about love and loss.

Years later, when the war was over and we had enough food again, my father told me that our gardener had taken Walter and fed him to his family who had nothing left to eat. My father knew it was the gardener, but he never confronted him -- even though he saw my grief. I now realize that both Walter and my father taught me something about compassion" (Nouwen, Henri. Here and Now. Living in the Spirit, 48).

When people are dying it often costs a great deal to save them. In this case it meant the loss of Nouwen's pet goat. It also cost the father a great deal to see his son suffer so much. while not an exact parallel it says something to us about our heavenly Father's compassion and what it cost him. To see that cost we need only look at the cross. Here we see the love and compassion of a Father who gave his Son.

How much does it cost to be compassionate? In God's case it cost the death of his Son. Each Sunday, as we come to the Lord's Table, it should remind us of John 3:16 (as well as 1 John 3:16), "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son ..." In the cup and in the bread we see also the love and compassion of the Son who paid the ultimate price to rescue us from death.

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