He looked down and saw a creature following him. Frodo looked up at Gandalf and the wizard acknowledged that this creature named Gollum, twisted into evil by centuries alone with the ring of power, had been following them all along.
Frodo was disgusted by this evil.
He said, “it is pity that Bilbo (his uncle who took the ring from Gollum originally) hadn’t stabbed him when he had a chance.”
The next line transforms the story of Frodo entirely. Gandalf says, “it was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand.” Gandalf then describes the pity of Bilbo being the turning point in the entire epic of The Lord of the Rings (see insert).
Gollum (formerly a Hobbit named Smeagol) would play an essential role in the deliverance of Middle Earth, and that role was preserved by Bilbo’s compassion and Frodo’s compassion. In fact, though he had only contempt for the creature at first, the burden of bearing the ring and its spell of evil ended up generating in Frodo genuine compassion for Gollum.
Compassion is at the center of the story of The Lord of the Rings. It is the hidden pin that holds the entire epic story together.
Could compassion be at the center of the story of the world? Could it also be that which holds all of life together?
Sometimes I look at society and the suffering in this world and I want it cleaned up, NOW! God does promise that, but his promises aren’t necessarily on our timing. The Apostle Peter famously spoke,
“The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
The Lord does not want anyone to miss out on the life that is in Him. So He is patient. His patience expresses itself in compassion.
We see that in when Jesus looked on the crowds. He had compassion for them (Matthew 9:35-38).
In the passage that bears our name, Jesus' compassion changes everything. In verse 35, Jesus is doing it all: teaching, preaching good news, healing. But then he saw the crowds. He could have fixed them, but he did not want the world to experience His repair, but rather he wanted it to experience His love. He surely could have fixed everybody, but he didn’t, at least immediately. Look at what he said. In his love, He envisioned the church. Eugene Peterson translates the verse,
“…when he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands (i.e. a church--my addition)!” (Matthew 9:36-38 MSG)
This world needs fixing, but Jesus wants to start with loving the world and through his love transform it. He will repair the world, not with a fix, but with love, and that through his people.
It is unfortunate that when people think of the church, they think of the term “judgmental.” See the graphic below from Kinnaman and Lyons from 2007 in their book Unchristian. Wouldn’t it be great if they experienced something different from church? What if the church was known for Jesus’ compassion?
Compassion is what has made the church great. Compassion is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. It is what has founded most of the hospitals in the world. Compassion has launched thousands of orphanages. Compassion has poured billions into caring for the poor. Compassion has driven the recovery movement. Compassion fuels the best of the church’s mission and it must drive ours as well.
Where will compassion lead Project 938? It is hard to say. As we as individuals begin taking steps forward of faith, in community, driven by compassion, God will give us ways to express compassion. As we do this together, he will lead us to more collective opportunities to follow Jesus' compassion forward. Compassion can turn your day, it can turn your life. Would it turn us as a church? Would it be at the center of our story—Jesus compassion? May we experience it for ourselves and extend it wherever he leads us.