“I understand three kinds of expression in our Lord. The first is that of his Passion which he showed while he was here in this life, dying. Although to contemplate this is mournful and sorrowful, it is still glad and joyful, for he is God. The second kind of expression is mercy and pity and compassion; and this he reveals to all who love him, with assurance of safekeeping for those that need his mercy. The third is his blessed countenance, as it shall be without end, and this was oftenest revealed and longest continued.Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Joy; Long Text, Chapter 71.
The Cambridge Dictionary’s primary definition of pity is ‘a feeling of sadness or sympathy for someone else’s unhappiness or difficult situation’. For compassion they write ‘A strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others, and a wish to help them.
Pity, therefore is merely an emotional response. It’s the touch paper for what is to come. ‘They don’t need your pity’ some cry, moved by a difficult situation and possible feeling helpless themselves. And yet, how can they not, for that immediate response to the needs of others is not only an emotional one, but is the way that connect with the heart and emotion of God. It takes us to the starting blocks of effecting the real change that the Kingdom, manifest on earth can bring.
Compassion, however, is synonymous with commitment in the language Kingdom of God. We can pity from a distance, and yet to show compassion means to act. I am sure that the both priest and the levite had pity for the man, stripped and beaten, lying by the side of the road. The Good Samaritan showed compassion, for he allowed that same pity to lead him into a compassionate response of active love.
So what do we show to the brokenness of the world; pity, leading to compassion? Let’s not, however, confuse the two.