But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
Many of my favorite parts of the Gospel are the narratives of Jesus showing compassion on a needy people. God’s love for us means God cares about us even in our mundane struggles, not to mention our deepest human needs. Yet, the Gospel is also clear that the coming of Christ into the world is connected with God’s judgment. Origen (martyred in 254AD) noted, 1800 years ago, this same tension in the Gospel between salvation and judgment:
Jesus, by his coming, brings about both: judging the world and saving it, but the one by means of the other. For he came into the world to judge it in order to save it (for he does not save it in order to judge it), and like a doctor, comes to the sick in order to heal them. (Origen, SPIRIT AND FIRE, p 340)
John’s Gospel, which some categorize as the Gospel of love, has these words:
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39)
Everything has its place including both compassion and judgment, but as Origen notes Christ came to judge the world in order to save it, rather than coming to save it in order to judge it. Even in judgment Christ is love, mercy and compassionate.
And while we live in relationship to this mysterious balance between God’s love and judgement, we also are to live imitating Christ and thus practicing mercy and compassion towards those around us, doing unto others as we would have them do to us.
We should not judge others. If we see ourselves as we are, we will find it simply impossible to. Self-understanding yields mercy, empathy, tolerance, love of the other. St Seraphim of Sarov, who lived at the turn of the 19th century, observed, ‘We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves.’ Our deepening realization of our own sin coupled with our increasing experience of God’s mercy will fill us with compassion for others. We will begin to realize that no one is beyond redemption. We will rejoice in people’s small and great acts of kindness. We will cheer their successes. We will experience empathetic sorrow at their struggles and failings. We will not pretend to know or fully understand the intricacies of the internal and external factors in their hearts. We will fervently wish for them nothing but God’s abundant grace, blessing, and love. We will pray that they increasingly come to a conscious knowledge of that love. (Peter Bouteneff, HOW TO BE A SINNER, p 52)
By orienting our own lives and perspectives towards Christ and aligning ourselves with God’s will, we become towards others what we wish God would be towards us.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)