Pause for Thought February 2017

All the children at Barnack School are aware that this term’s value is compassion. Each half term there is a different value that the children learn about and are then helped to reflect it in their behaviour. It may seem that ‘compassion’ is a difficult concept for someone who is perhaps only five years old, but there are many Bible stories that we are able to use to allow them to see that Jesus often showed compassion . There are also many more secular examples as well, though often these are inspired by someone’s faith.

We, too, know stories of compassion or mercy.  The best known to us is probably the ‘quality of mercy’ speech from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice when Portia pleads with Shylock not to take his pound of flesh and kill Antonio. To the more modern playgoer the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a supreme example of the transformative power of compassion. 

For those unfamiliar with the story the plot begins when Jean Valjean – a destitute convict on parole – is taken in by a bishop who lavishes him with love, providing food for him and a bed for the night. Valjean is stunned by this generosity, but also sees his opportunity and makes off with the bishop’s silver in the night. The next day he is caught by the police and marched back to the bishop to confirm that the silver does in fact belong to him. Faced with the choice whether to seek justice or to show mercy the compassionate bishop tells the constable that the silver was a gift to Valjean. In words that are to change Valjean’s life the bishop asks him to see this as a part of God’s plan for his life and to use the silver for good. Valjean is confused as this goes against everything he has lived by previously, but feels shame for the way he has lived and vows: ‘Another story has begun.’ Showing compassion can change lives.

Politics aside, I find myself moved by President Obama’s almost last act in office to show compassion to a troubled young woman and transmuting her sentence for treason from thirty five years to seven. Justice has been served in the seven years, the compassion offered will change her life. What better way to bravely end his presidency by showing a world often torn by violence and anger there is another way – God’s way shown through the life of his son, Jesus.Compassion is not just a word for our children to learn, but a value to live that could change the world.