The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Have mercy!

Tense political & ideological times call for deeper meaning of compassion

Dorothy Ames lives in Milford, Del., where a van picks her up every Sunday for worship at the Pentecostal church. Photo by Tom Mihalek.It happened during Christmas week. A seismic shift sent a mountainous wave that rolled over Indonesia. As of this writing, there are 150,000 dead and counting — so momentous that all other news, issues and events paled in comparison. The world was stunned by this tragedy's sheer magnitude.

Then came the response. Like a minor tsunami itself, people worldwide wrote checks and sought ways to help. Some nations responded instantly by pledging emergency aid in money and in kind. Reaching out to the victims was the action of the moment. It's called compassion — the essential, bedrock, biblical response that Jesus embodied in his life and ministry.

Henri Nouwen, priest and professor, defined the sainted life as being one of compassion. Of being "lost with the lost, hungry with the hungry, sick with the sick, suffering with perfect sensitivity," he wrote.

But this is never easy. Individual stories of caring emerged amid the thousands of bodies washed up along Indonesian shorelines. One interview with a vacationing American told of how Thai people acted with great concern for surviving tourists — even as they mourned their losses — leading foreigners through the dark to higher ground, helping them through the night.

One Thai made the dangerous descent down into the flooded beach village and returned with rice and other nourishment for frightened tourists. He was a Buddhist. Compassion was in his faith lexicon — just as ours is in Christ Jesus.

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