What is Compassion?4 min read

Jesus had compassion. Witnessing human suffering filled Jesus with compassion and led him to perform miraculous healings (Matthew 14:14). Seeing crowds of people like a sheep without a shepherd stirred the warmth of compassion within Him (Matthew 9:36). Crossing paths with a widow burying her dead child filled Jesus with compassion, and He raised the child from death to life (Luke 7:13). Jesus had compassion.

Nevertheless, compassion is a difficult concept. We struggle to understand what it means to have compassion: Is i t empathy? Sympathy? Mercy? Kindness? We love knowing that Jesus had compassion on so many people, yet we have a hard time explaining how His compassion impacts us. We want to show compassion to others, yet we are not sure how to enact Christ’s compassion in our own lives.

The word compassion is made up of two Latin words, ‘cum’ and ‘passio.’ Together, these words literally mean ‘to suffer with.’ To have compassion on someone is to suffer with that person. Jesus had compassion on people by suffering right alongside them. On the cross, Jesus had compassion on sinners by suffering with sinners for their salvation.

Embodying Compassion through a Coat Bank

Embodying Christ’s compassion means suffering with others. We have compassion on people by needing, hurting, and hungering with them. The people of St. Luke, Haslett have compassion on the people of Lansing through a coat bank ministry. For the past six years, the congregation has worked to provide coats to people in need.

St. Luke’s coat bank ministry began through collaboration with another local congregation, which was operating a food pantry and a coat bank. The demand was too great for one congregation to run both services, and they began looking for help. In 2009, St. Luke began housing and operating the coat bank ministry for the greater Lansing area, and has done it continuously since.

The need for coats has steadily grown each year since the coat bank’s inception. In 2010-2011, the St. Luke coat bank gave away 634 coats. The next year, 2011-2012, the coat bank was still gaining traction and only gave away 492 coats. The following year, 2012-2013, the coat bank dispersed 850 coats through the winter season. In 2013-2014, the St. Luke coat bank distributed 1,197 coats to people in need.

The coat bank operates inside of St. Luke’s building in Haslett. Donations are accepted year-round, and these donations provide the coats for people in need. The ministry schedules ten dates to distribute coats on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings between October and January. Volunteers greet people as they arrive and help them fill out a form including the person’s name, address, and how they heard about the coat bank. This information is kept on file for future reference. Children are allowed one coat per year and adults are allowed one every other year. This policy aims to spread as many coats around the community as possible.

Palm Sunday Compassion

Maintaining a sufficient inventory of coats is a constant struggle for the coat bank. Plus sizes and children’s coats, for instance, are often depleted early in the winter months. This year, the congregation came up with a unique worship opportunity for Palm Sunday. As a way to commemorate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus (Mark 11:1-11), the people of St. Luke brought coats with them to the Palm Sunday service. During the opening hymn, individuals brought their coats up and placed them in front of the altar. This provided a visual of the people spreading their cloaks on the road as Jesus came into Jerusalem (Mark 11:8). This act of worship also provided 251 coats to help increase the inventory of the coat bank.

This past year, the St. Luke coat bank gave away 1,039 coats. The congregation also created an auxiliary location at Christ Lutheran Church (English District) in Downtown Lansing. This second coat bank offers an additional resource for Christ Lutheran’s soup kitchen, and helps to put the coats closer to many people in need.

St. Luke members strive to know the peace and the power of the cross. We are witnesses to Christ’s compassion for us on the cross. We are witnesses to His power through the empty tomb. We share that peace and power by having compassion on our neighbors. The coat bank is a way for us to follow in the great compassion of Jesus.

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About the Author

Rev. A. Trevor Sutton serves as Associate Pastor at St. Luke, Haslett. He is in the Writing & Rhetoric graduate program at Michigan State University. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Okemos and have two daughters.

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