The Compassionate God
by the Most Reverend Lewis Fiorelli, O.S.F.S., S.T.D.
Etymology, or the study of the linguistic history of words, is often helpful in discovering what the
words we employ frequently really mean. We all know that the Etymology of the word,
"Compassion" comes from Two (2) Latin words
which mean "to suffer with". To be Compassionate,
then, means to be Willing to Suffer along
with someone else, to be Willing to Freely join them in their
Painful Experience so as to share that Pain with them and thereby to lessen
it for them.
Scripture frequently reminds us that ours is a Compassionate
God. Psalm 78 tells us that God
is "Full of Compassion" (Psalm 78:38); and the Book of Sirach
proclaims that the Lord is "Compassionate and Merciful"
(Sirach 2:11). As Psalm 145 puts it, God's
Compassion extends "Toward all His Works"
(Psalm 145:9). In fact, the many References in the Old Testament to a
Kind, Merciful and Compassionate
God are far too numerous to list.
What is new about Compassion in the New Testament is its conviction that it is
in the Person, Life and Ministry of Jesus that God's
Compassionate Love for the Human Family has been Fully Revealed to us in Human Form and given to us for our imitation:
"Be as Compassionate as [the] Father is Compassionate" (Luke 6:36).
In looking at Jesus as the Compassion of
God in Human Form, let us remember that if Compassion
means "to suffer with", it implies, before that, "to be
with". That is why Jesus is First
called Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). Thus, the
Incarnation means, before all else, that God's Compassionate Love
for us is First manifested to us precisely in the ordinary Human Life which
Jesus lived among us. Thus, it is disclosed in those Thirty
(30) Hidden Years of Family Life in Nazareth during which
Jesus lived fully immersed in the Daily give-and-take of Relational Life, in the Hard Physical
Labor of a Carpenter, and in living among the Poor and Little Ones of Israel, as one of them.
"To be with" also implies "to be in solidarity
with". In Jesus, God is
no Aloof and Distant Deity. He is,
rather, fully-engaged in the Life and Struggles of
His People. After all, He is the same God
Who revealed His name to Moses not simply as
"I AM", but more-fully as "I am concerned about
you" (Exodus 3:14, 16) and Acted on that Concern by Liberating
His People from the Slavery of
Harsh Political Oppression. Forever after, the
God of Israel would be recognized as a God Who is in
Solidarity with His People and
Whose Compassionate Love for them reaches not only to the Spiritual,
by which He Saves them from their Sin, but
also into the very Fabric of their Everyday Life, bringing Dignity, Justice, and Freedom into its every nook-and-cranny, including the
Political, Cultural, and Economic.
Since God's Compassionate Love reaches into the very fabric of Human Life, it is not
surprising that Jesus not only Redeemed His
People from Sin by His
Death for them on the Cross, but also addressed their Human
needs. Jesus fed the Hungry,
Healed the Sick, Befriended
the Alienated, and spoke out in defense of the Poor
and the Disenfranchised. As Emmanuel,
He was both God among
His People and also God in Solidarity
with His People. In Him, the
Poor found a Friend, and the
Marginalized an Advocate.
We must go further. As the Human Life of Jesus makes clear to us from
Scripture, "to be with" not only means "to
be in solidarity with", it also means "to Suffer with". And
Jesus Suffered greatly because of
His Decision to be identified with and to be a Special Advocate for
God's People. That Suffering culminated in a
Terrible Agony and the Ignominious Death of
His final Passion.
But the Fullest meaning of Divine Compassion goes beyond
Suffering with and becomes a Redemptive
Suffering for others. For this reason, the
One Who is Emmanuel, is also
Savior. Thus, because God is
Love, and Divine Love is
Compassionate, the World and the whole Human Family are Saved on
the Cross of Christ.