By Liz Martin
I am convinced that the power of God is less about the words we say and more about the presence of Jesus we bring. Now, do I always live with such conviction? That’s unlikely. More than ever, before knowledge is at our fingertips, and within seconds, we can know something about which we were previously unaware or uneducated. Because of this, it adds more pressure into the cooker of tension and comfortability when we do not understand something. We want answers, and we want them served up firm, now. When something can’t be figured out, it’s bothersome, so we come up with a solution for it in our own context, and typically with efficiency, to avoid any discomfort at all costs. This is why showing compassionate love is hard—it throws us into suffering with others (feeling pain, unpacking messy stories, giving up time and resources, etc.). This might be why in his correction letter to the church in Corinth Apostle Paul writes, “…We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1, NIV). A sustainable movement of compassionate building takes time, planning, and care. Compassionate love can only be participated in with the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel of John, we arrive at chapter 9 when Jesus healed the man born blind. This miracle is the sixth sign up to this point in the book of John. All of the miracles are intended to highlight who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish. In this account, we see Jesus as the powerful light giver when he healed the man born blind. His compassionate love allowed the blind man to see more and more, not just in outward physical healing but also in understanding at the heart level.
As this healing took place, there were also religious leaders among the crowd following Jesus who began to make judgments about the man and on Jesus. As the blind man said, “he healed me”(v. 15), the Pharisees said, “he is not from God” (v. 16). The blind man answered, “he is a prophet” (v. 17), and the Pharisees said, “he must be a sinner” (v. 24). When the blind man responded in belief, “I believe in the Son of Man,” and worshiped Jesus (v. 38), the Pharisees asked, “are we the ones who are blind?” (v. 40)
In a lot of ways, I am the Pharisee. Paul Miller, in his book Love Walked Among Us, said it best: “Compassion affects us. Maybe that’s why we judge so quickly—it keeps us from being infected by other people’s problems. Passing judgement is just so efficient.”
When I was living in Kenya, we were developing relationships with the Turkana people in a rural area with the hope of helping a pastor plant a church. We would visit hut to hut in small groups and invite people to attend church. One morning, a six-year-old girl was brought to our team who was born blind. We could see scales over her eyes that flies would eat at all day. The mom carrying her to us had anguish on her face. We could tell that she was likely also an outcast because of her daughter’s condition.
Our team split up, and four or the girls from my team stayed behind with the mom and daughter to pray. After four to five hours in the village went by, we came back, and the girls were still in the same place with the mom and daughter. However, a large crowd had surrounded. As we made our way through the crowd, I expected to see this girl healed. I thought to myself, “wow, had God moved miraculously to heal this girl?” Instead, we arrived, and I saw the girl in the same condition, with her mom looking more and more distressed. They had prayed for all those hours, even put mud and spit over her eyes and called upon the name of Jesus, yet no healing came. All these people gathered to watch, and I had nothing but anxiousness in my spirit over the spectacle we had made.
That night, we got back to our tents and sat around the campfire. I was so upset that I couldn’t even eat dinner. Finally, I had the confidence to speak up. I was angry. I felt like we had made Jesus look like a failed magician . . . not the light of the world. Clearly, it was not in his will to heal that girl, so why did they continue to pray and draw the crowds to them? Then, from across the campfire, one of my teammates who had been sitting all day with the blind girl praying looked at me. Her eyes were not filled with discouragement; they were filled with hope as she said, “Liz, we were just trying to live in faith and love that girl and mom.” My heart sank to my stomach—she was right. When was the last time that girl was embraced and that mom comforted? Here, I was trying to understand and pass my judgement when they were postured to display compassion. I feel what the Pharisees may have felt, knowing the head knowledge but not having love. I feel what Paul Miller writes on judgment when he says, “Judging is knee-jerk, quick, and bereft of thought, while compassion is slow and thought-filled.”
The next morning, we returned to the village to the sea of kids running up to us, as per usual. This time, there was another kid running around in the mix. It was her—it was the blind girl holding a soccer ball without scales on her eyes! She could see, and I began to cry. Then, that day, so many of the people from the crowd welcomed Jesus into their hearts. The crowd that sat and witnessed love were moved by the presence of Jesus through that miracle. My judgment, which was so narrow, thought this would only distract others from the good news of Christ, but instead, it drew people in. That is what compassionate love does.
My judgment and embrace of our western time-oriented culture and demand for quick answers blocked me from seeing. It blinded me from being able to show compassion. I placed my hope in what I thought rather than in the expectancy of Jesus to make things whole. Miller puts it this way: “When we stop judging, we rest from the incessant work of analyzing others. We don’t need to figure out what’s wrong with people—that’s God’s job. Our job is to try to understand.”
As we try to understand together, and as I continue to be humbled by this story every time I have told it over the past nine years, I have come to realize that judgment just blocks our ability to see others. It blocks our opportunity to see Jesus, to join him, and die to ourselves for his greater cause. It blocks us from getting to be with others, and experience the Kingdom of Heaven on earth with our neighbors.
Now, several years later, I get to hope on behalf of others through the work of YoungLives here in our city. These are just a few tips that I like to give out to those getting involved, and maybe they will be helpful here too as we extend compassionate love to our neighbors.
- Check your Motivations. Invite the Holy Spirit into the darkest places of your heart and mind. Ask Jesus to be a powerful light to expose and illuminate those spaces where stereotypes may exist, or our agenda may be at play. Remember the point—it is to see Jesus.
- Maintain Boundaries. This is done best within shared community. Ask for advice, and share the burden.
- Be rooted. Posture yourself daily in Scripture, listening prayer, and do not forget to celebrate in gratitude for, “life and breathe and everything else . . .” (Acts 17:25).
And with that, I’ll leave you with this Henri Nouwen Quote:
In order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgement because judgement creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other . . . .’ Do not judge and you will not be judged yourselves’ is a word of Jesus that is indeed very hard to live up to. But it contains the secret of a compassionate ministry.