The first element of true compassion is an understanding of the real world that is neither naive nor cynical. According to the Bible, Jesus “knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for he knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:24-25). What this means is that Jesus did not deal with people from a position of ignorance. He knew that not only was man made in the image of God and, thus, of great value, but he also knew that man was sin-sick and fallen. But understanding, as He did, the general imperfections of a real world marred by sin, and knowing mankind’s basic sinfulness, he was still open to others, reaching out to the lost all around Him.
Unlike Jesus, we often try to interact with others from one or the other of two different extremes. The first extreme is naiveté. The naive man is both gullible and exploitable. He attempts to bestow his compassion on all men, believing that he will, in turn, be treated well by all who are the objects of his compassion. Eventually, he learns that he is often, if not always, being taken for a ride or granted. With his self-esteem injured, and thinking himself to have ample reason, he swings to the opposite extreme of cynicism, which always expects the lowest of motives in the best of actions. Now, although it is true that we do not possess perfect understanding, as Jesus did, knowing who was trustworthy and who was not, we, like Him, can learn to trust our Father, not men, and remain open to those around us without being either naive or cynical.
When Jesus saw the multitude, “He was moved with compassion for them because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). Understanding their real need, the Lord Himself, the Chief Shepherd, the One who had come to seek and save the lost, was “moved with compassion.” He was further moved to inform His disciples that: “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38).
Like Jesus, we, His disciples, must be compelled by compassion to seek and save the lost of a sin-sick, dying world. But this is not all. True compassion is born of real understanding. It knows the worth of men made in the image of God. It knows that man, contrary to the excellent specimen he could have been, is fallen and sin-sick. Consequently, the most excellent examples of true compassion will not always be well received. It’s a fact that sinful men frequently do not act or react well. Those on whom Jesus had compassion crucified Him. Why should we expect anything more? Why should we allow the evil behavior of sin-sick men to prevent us from bestowing on them an informed compassion that seeks for them that which they have not yet understood they need? If God in the flesh had not so acted, all of us would be without any hope in this world: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).