Root: רָחַם resh/chet/mem (raw-kham)
Compassion is one of those human qualities that we admire and celebrate. It’s a hugely emotional word. Our feelings are stirred by the tiniest bird with a broken wing, a child without a friend, a famished stray kitten, an elderly man who can’t remember his family. We want to preserve and protect those in need.
It is easy to have mercy on lost puppies and cherub faced children from struggling countries…
….but the real test comes in having compassion on the “undesirables” of society: the homeless, prostitutes, drug addicts… or those who look or behave differently from what we deem as “normal”: the severely autistic, the disfigured, the suicidal, the depressed, those suffering with PTSD.
Yeshua was the epitome of a truly compassionate person; he comforted lepers, he dined with prostitutes, he protected the downtrodden, he took the time to speak with beggars, he preserved hope to the hopeless, he sought out and touched the mentally afflicted.
Even Yeshua pointed out that we sometimes have more compassion for animals than we do for humans:
One Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman there had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was hunched over and could not stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then He laid His hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and began to glorify God.
But the synagogue leader was indignant that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. “There are six days for work,” he told the crowd. “So come and be healed on those days and not on the Sabbath.”
“You hypocrites!” the Lord replied, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it to water? Then should not this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, be released from her bondage on the Sabbath day?”
When Jesus said this, all His adversaries were humiliated.
Notice, though, that Yeshua didn’t just feel compassionate, he acted on it. And His action almost always included human touch. There was a mental connection and a physical connection. How easy is it for us to have compassion with thoughts and prayers. How much better would it be to hold a hand and help.
In the Old Testament YHWH instructed His followers to be compassionate advocates of social justice.
“Thus has YHWH of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice (mishpat) and practice lovingkindness (chesed) and compassion [wa-r’chamim] each to his brother; and do not oppress the widower, the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
YHWH, over and over, had mercy on those He had a relationship with:
As a father has compassion [k-rachem] on his children, so the Lord has compassion [richam] on those who are in awe of him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
And YHWH dealt out compassion regardless of whether we deserved it or not:
Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in lovingkindness (chesed). He will again have compassion [y-r’ch’mehnu] on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
Notice that YHWH and Yeshua never made those who asked for mercy prove their worth. When the blind called out to Yeshua, “Have mercy on us”, He never asked “Why should I?” or “What have you done to deserve it?” Instead Yeshua asked this:
As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. And there were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
The crowd chided them to be silent, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.
“Lord,” they answered, “let our eyes be opened.”
Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and at once they received their sight and followed Him.
Their simple answer “let our eyes be opened” moved Yeshua with compassion. He felt deeply and He voluntarily acted on His compassion with touch. Yeshua was merely following YHWH’s example:
And He [YHWH] said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of YHWH before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion [w-richam’ti] on whom I will show compassion [a-rachem].”
Regardless of rules or regulations “I will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” said YHWH. That was why Yeshua changed lives, even on the Sabbath!
Oh Lord do not withhold your tender mercies [racha’meka] from me. Let your lovingkindness (chesed) and your truth continually preserve me.
Compassion is a strong emotion that should draw you to action: to heal, surround, help, nurture, protect and preserve something that has a heartbeat! How interesting is it, then, that the Hebrew root for compassion (רָחַם) is the same as the Hebrew root for womb (רָ֫חֶם)!
Next week: Womb