“Indiscriminate compassion.” I came across these two words recently in Brennan Manning’s memoir All Is Grace, and they stopped me short.
You would think the word compassion wouldn’t need an adjective. Compassion – “sympathy, empathy, care, concern, sensitivity, warmth, love, mercy, kindness, humanity, charity” – should be able to stand on its own, right? Indiscriminate compassion seems redundant.
Turns out, I need the adjective.
The truth is, more often than not, my brand of compassion is not indiscriminate. It’s selective, directed, carefully considered. I pick and choose those whom I think deserve or are worthy of my compassion. I often second-guess myself or reason my way out of loving others.
Is that man on the street corner with the cardboard sign really homeless? What if he’s part of a scam? I heard homeless people work together to get more money. I heard they actually make a pretty good living panhandling. What if he uses my donation for alcohol or drugs? What if he’s not actually that poor? What if he’s taking advantage of me?
I can reason myself out of compassion in less than ten seconds flat while idling at a stoplight.
That’s why Manning’s phrase caught me off guard. Reason, rationale, worthiness, deservedness – the elaborate rubric we’ve crafted to determine who’s in and who’s out, who deserves our love and who doesn’t – doesn’t stand a chance in the face of indiscriminate compassion.
Compassion offered without considering the pros and cons? Compassion offered across the board, to anyone and everyone, no qualifications necessary? Compassion offered without guarantee of outcomes? Compassion when you can’t be sure the person really deserves it?
Now that’s a radical concept.
And that’s exactly the kind of compassion Jesus practiced and preached.
Think about how Jesus approached the social pariah, the prostitute, the leper, the sinner, the demonized, the outcast.
He didn’t demand repentance, an explanation or an apology.
He didn’t consider whether the person was worthy or deserving of his love.
He didn’t require certain conditions or criteria be met.
He didn’t draw a line between who was in and who was out, who qualified and who didn’t.
Jesus invited and embraced any and all. Jesus ministered to any and all. Jesus’ compassion came with no strings attached. Jesus loved — indiscriminately.
And he expects us to do the same.
“Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty,” Jesus instructed his followers. “The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” (Matthew 10:42, Msg.)
Notice what Jesus doesn’t say.
He doesn’t say Give a cool cup of water to someone who you’re sure is worthy of it.
He does say Give a cool cup of water to someone who will make good use of that water.
He doesn’t say Give a cool cup of water to someone who will be grateful for it.
He doesn’t say Give a cool cup of water to someone who meets these particular conditions or criteria.
Jesus simply says Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty. End of story.
And notice that last bit, too: You won’t lose out on a thing.
I think that’s the clincher for a lot of us: we are afraid of what we’ll lose – our money, our possessions, our pride, our self-respect. But Jesus reminds us that it’s not about what we lose. It’s all about what we gain, which is the freedom that comes from loving unabashedly, no holds barred, no strings attached.
Let us love, then, as Jesus did. Let us release our reasoning, our rationale, our second-guessing, our conditions and our expectations. Let us lavish wildly abundant compassion and grace on everyone we meet.
And let us take Jesus at his word. Rest assured, we won’t lose out on a thing when we practice Jesus’ kind of indiscriminate compassion. But the rewards? Those will be rich indeed.