During his years here on earth, Jesus went about doing good (acts 10:38). Whenever he encountered a need in individuals or multitudes, his concern motivated immediate action. He fed, healed, taught, calmed turbulent seas, cast out demons, and even raised the dead. In all he did and said, he set an example for his disciples to follow through the ages (1 peter 2:21). They, like Jesus, were to be agents of compassion communicating by word and deed the message of God’s saving grace. They were to serve as conduits for the outflow of Spirit-empowered helpfulness.
The best way to appreciate how Jesus’s compassion has impacted history is to consider the lives of individuals who have served as conduits of his caring love. They have been light in the darkness of a depraved culture and voices pleading for mercy and kindness. Here are just two illustrations of Christlike compassion.
Jackie Polinger, who was born and grew up in Great Britain, was a musician by vocation and a Christian by conviction. From the age of five she felt that God was directing her into missionary service. Eventually she found herself in Hong Kong. All alone, she began a compassionate work of witness in the notorious Walled City, where more than 50,000 people were crowded into a mere 6.5 acres. It was a refuge for criminals of every kind. Its streets were lined with heroin dens and opium dives, to say nothing of the pornographic theaters.
Jackie was only twenty years old, untrained and unprotected, when she moved into that nightmare and began to share the good news of Christ’s forgiveness and love. She met with violent hostility. Yet slowly Jackie’s unfaltering compassion, dauntless bravery, and Christ-centered preaching had an impact. Her ministry was dynamic and transforming, indeed it showed the very power of God for salvation. Through Jackie, Jesus continued his work of compassion.
Mary Reed, born in Ohio in 1858, was another conduit of Christlike compassion. Hearing about the plight of lepers in India, she decided to do what she could to alleviate their distressful situation and share with them the good news of God’s love. She moved to the city of Cawnpore where conditions were indescribably difficult. After 8 years of compassionate labor, she suffered a physical breakdown, so she returned home to recuperate. But after a while she returned to India and went to Pithoraterth in the Himalayas.
There in the mountains she came across a tragic group of five hundred lepers, subsisting by themselves, with no human agency concerned about their misery. Burdened for their helpless and hopeless situation, Mary could not forget those neglected sufferers. After another year of intense ministry, she collapsed and was sent back to her American home. Mary knew she had contracted leprosy. Yet, rather than being horrified, she saw it as God’s gift, an answer to her pleas that somehow she might be permitted to work among those lepers in the Himalayas.
Back in India, Mary went to that leper settlement where no missionary had gone before. “I have been called by God to come and help you,” she told the astonished sufferers. And there she remained as God’s agent of Christlike compassion, providing healing, help, and hope to the once utterly hopeless outcasts. For 53 years she lived and served at Chanbag, dying there in 1943.
These two servants of the Lord Jesus are representative of a great host of his disciples, the majority of them unknown and unapplauded. But their names are known in heaven, and they have received the only commendation they desired and deserved, their Lord’s word of approval, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
If we have named Jesus as our Redeemer and Master, we are challenged to follow in Jackie’s and Mary’s footsteps as they followed in the footsteps of him who was compassion incarnate. As recipients of saving grace, we have the privilege of letting the love of Christ flow through our lives and out into the needy world. As we do that only then can some of humanity’s needs be met.
Henri Nouwen instructs us how to be conduits of Jesus’s compassion: “When I pray for the endless needs of the millions, my soul expands and wants to embrace them all and bring them into the presence of God. But in the midst of that experience I realize that compassion is not mine but God’s gift to me. I cannot embrace the world, but God can. I cannot pray, but God can pray in me. When God became as we are . . . He allowed us to enter into the intimacy of the divine life. He made it possible for us to share in God’s infinite compassion. And by grace we not only share the experience of God’s compassion. By his enabling grace we can become the conduits of that compassion, following in Christ’s footsteps as did a host of our spiritual forbears. But if we indeed are copying Christ, as Paul urged in 1 Corinthians 11:1, our compassion will not be limited to bodily needs. It will have soul needs as its supreme priority.”