Contagious Compassion

(I wrote the following article for the Facebook site, Center for Congregational Ethics and the daily lectionary reading for April 8, 2021, based on Daniel 1.)

What if compassion were like a contagious disease that spread through contact with others?  What if, for instance, a police officer contracted compassion from his superior, and then spread it to the others they encountered that day? What difference might it make in a life or two or four?

How would the story of Daniel, in chapter 1, be different without the compassion of the palace master Ashpenaz? Four of Ashpenaz’ charges had been force-marched from their homeland hundreds of miles to be immersed in a foreign culture with strangers and stripped of their names. These four young people were bonded by their language, religious faith, and the agonies of their homesickness. They were valued for their abilities, yet they were deemed slaves by the callous and cruel.

According to verses 9 and 10 (NRSV), Ashpenaz was inspired to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but even so, denied the dietary request. Maybe Ashpenaz winked when he publicly said what he had to say. It was the under-guard appointed to oversee the four who demonstrated contagious compassion by allowing the ten-day faith and food test. Compassion brings out the best in ourselves and in others. 

Like Daniel and his friends, thousands upon thousands of heartsick and desperate people in 2021 are being forced to move from their homes into migrant and refugee camps, detention centers, and prisons each day. What if compassion were as contagious as the callousness that so easily besets us? I propose a ten-day faith and compassion test. Spread compassion to the stranger, to the neighbor and to yourself, inspired by the gift of God within you. 

Darryl DeBorde is pastor of the Braden Park Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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