We read the statistics of the number of children in Wichita public schools who are homeless and we are shocked and concerned about the large numbers—but how many of us know, personally, any of these homeless children?
Re read in our newspapers of 150,000 men, women and children who will be prevented from having Medicaid medical care because Kansas lawmakers refuse to accept the program that is a part of Obamacare. We are concerned, but are any of us personally acquainted with any of those “statistics” on a first name basis ? In all of the above “people problems”Christians may be concerned. But we have no personal relationship with any of these people and therefore no compassion for them. Jim Wallis writes , “A very wise old man told me the difference between concern and compassion. Being concerned is seeing something awful happening to somebody and feeling ‘Hey, that’s really too bad.’ “Having compassion’, he said, is seeing the same thing and saying, ‘I just can’t let that happen to my brother.” (Wallis, Call to Conversion, p. 49-50)
Compassion grows out of a feeling of relationship—this is my brother, my sister, part of God’s family; this is a child of God, and I must act, not just feel badly for them.
Jesus acted out of compassion many times in his ministry. For example, in Mark 1:40-41 we read that “a leper came to him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”
I John 3:17 says “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
Our lives and our cities are so structured that we seldom come face to face with poverty. But doing that is necessary to trigger a response of compassion in our hearts. The freeways of our cities take us over and away from the places where the poor live. Our suburbs isolate us from the poverty of the inner-city. We don’t see or smell or hear the poverty—we don’t hear the gunshots, we don’t see the victims of drugs and alcohol that are homeless on the “skid rows” of our cities.
I believe what Wallis says is true: “Proximity to poor people is crucial to our capacity for compassion. Only through proximity do we begin to see, touch, and feel the experience of poverty. when affluent people find genuine friendships among the poor, some revolutionary changes in our consciousness can begin to tak place.” (Call to Conversion, p. 51).
I have, in my experience found this to be very true. At Bread and Cup ministries we make a point to sit down at tables with the poor and the needy and to listen to life stories and see needs firsthand. Sometimes the persons don’t smell very good. Sometimes they don’t talk very “nice.” Sometimes there is alcohol on their breath and we watch their struggles with addiction and think they are succeeding and then they break our hearts when they fall back to old ways. But we never feel the same about them afterward. That’s why, despite all the difficulties Bread and Cup has experienced in finding a place to locate, the volunteers keep working to provide for the needy. That’s why Bread and Cup volunteers work their hearts out each week to provide food and clothing and fellowship. These people are our friends!. We feel compassion for these poor and needy and homeless people because we know them and love them. They are our brothers and sisters—and but for the grace of God, they are us! .