The Beauty of Compassion
As I flipped television channels last night, I came upon a Nova program that chronicled the journey of two Bangladeshi conjoined twins. They underwent a grueling, 34-hour separation surgery in Australia. They are now doing great. One of the twins has some developmental difficulties, but they are both so lucky to be alive.
The story was dramatic and heart-warming. Many, many people came together to create this miracle, including case workers, adoptive parents, doctors, nurses, surgeons, even the Australian government. It was a beautiful story, but one thing troubled me.
Why is this drama not repeated every day for “normal” people?
Why are people hurting and dying from hunger and homelessness when we have such sophisticated medical technology?
Why were these twins chosen to live while others are chosen to die?
How many homeless or working poor people did the doctors drive by that day on their way to surgery for these twins? How many people would only ask for a month’s rent, or a small job, or child care to lift them out of their situation, and to save their life? Is this not a small thing compared to such a large, complicated surgery?
How complicated is fixing poverty?
Poverty and Ego
Yes, fixing poverty is complicated, but I suspect the issue boils down simply to ego. Ego triumphs compassion. Who gains fame and fortune from giving somebody a hand up?
The doctors and surgeons for the Bangladeshi twins were recognized on national and international television for their work. Separating these twins is a beautiful act of love, but it also meant fame and fortune.
There are other beautiful acts of love. Give a poor person a job and a car. Give parents food stamps to get groceries for their hungry children. Give a homeless family a warm blanket to protect from the cold. These are all beautiful acts of love, but they do not mean fame and fortune. Works done in secret do not stoke the ego. Jesus understood that ego triumphs compassion when he said:
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Compassion in Public
The working poor, the down-and-out, the hopeless, sometimes attempt suicide in their utter despair. When they jump off a bridge, take up the pill bottle, or put the gun to their head, suddenly the police, social workers, and doctors are there to help. Oh, the irony. The helpers come when the cameras are flashing, and their good works are their for all to see. But why didn’t they come in secret, bring hope to the poor, to prevent the despair from going that deep?
Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard about a lady who jumped off the Ross Island Bridge here in Portland. There was a heroic effort put forth to save her, and then, when hope had faded, a search team continued until they found her body.
Where was the search team to take care of her needs before she jumped off that bridge? Why was the hospital ready to house and feed her only after she had reached the end of her rope? Is this only another case of media fame, five minutes on the nightly news, a public attaboy and attagirl for the police and rescue workers?
Ego Triumphs Compassion
Our true problem as a society is that ego triumphs compassion. It is good to perform heroic surgeries and heal the sick with handsome remuneration. That is work done for human ego. It is better to perform compassionate acts of love for the least of these in secret. That is work done for Jesus.
We do not give enough effort to help the poor and the sick in secret. We say poverty is too hard to fix. All it takes is a meal for the hungry, a cup of cold water for the thirsty, an open door to the stranger, some medicine for the sick, or a visit to the prisoner. One person at a time, in secret.
Woe to such a society. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’