A value to live by
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9.36
Corporate values are all the rage: companies are expected to express their own and employees are then supposed to live accordingly. The idea is both aspirational and revelatory. Our specific values say something about the kind of enterprise we serve and the quality of service customers can expect. This approach is not confined to business. Charities and churches are also finding it helpful to consider and publish the values that shape and guide their organisation and the work they do.
The classic ancient Greek texts, the Odyssey and the Illiad, have influenced what we regard as the most noble values: courage in battle, an adventurous spirit, resourcefulness in all circumstances. Less prominent , yet as significant if not more so, are qualities such as faithfulness and compassion. Indeed these turn out to be the game-changers, what really make the characters who possess them.
There is no doubting the courage and resourcefulness of Jesus, yet what makes him truly great and transforms our whole understand of who God is, boils down to his compassion. In most, if not all, other religious traditions which acknowledge a supreme being whom we call God, that God is altogether transcendent and therefore incapable of sharing our weaknesses and suffering. Yet, according to the witness of the Bible and generations of disciples, in Jesus God laid aside his glory, entered his creation and shared those weaknesses and that suffering - in order to redeem them and us.
The compassion of Jesus transforms our understanding of God and informs what it means to be human and to live out our humanity in the most noble way. So much of what society currently esteems are thinly veiled vices, such as greed, selfishness, intolerance and impatience. Far from rendering us happy and fulfilled, such cravings cause harm and leave us diminished and disillusioned. Compassion frees us from our baser desires, sets us alongside others in the wider context of all creation and our Creator and thereby awakens us to life in its fullest sense.