"The Hebrew word for 'compassion' whose singular form means 'womb' is often used of God in the Old Testament. It is translated as 'merciful' in the characterization of God as 'gracious and merciful.' It is present in that quite wonderful expression from the King James Bible the 'tender mercies' of God. It is found in a passage in Jeremiah that has been translated as follows:

"Thus says Yahweh:
In Ephraim (Israel) my dear son? my darling child?
For the more I speak of him,
the more I do remember him.
Therefore my womb trembles for him;
I will truly show motherly-compassion upon him.

"Thus the Hebrew Bible speaks frequently of God as compassionate, with resonances of 'womb' close at hand.

"And so Jesus' statement 'Be compassionate as God is compassionate' is rooted in the Jewish tradition. As an image for the central quality of God, it is striking, To say that God is compassionate is to say that God is 'like a womb,' is 'womblike,' or, to coin a word that captures the flavor of the original Hebrew, 'wombish.' What does it suggest to say that God is like a womb? Metaphoric and evocative, the phrase and its associative image provocatively suggest a number of connotations. Like a womb, God is the one who gives birth to us — the mother who gives birth to us. As a mother loves the children of her womb and feels for the children of her womb, so God loves us and feels for us, for all of her children. In its sense of 'like a womb,' compassionate has nuances of giving life, nourishing, caring, perhaps embracing and encompassing. For Jesus, this is what God is like.

"And, to complete the imitatio dei, to 'be compassionate as God is compassionate' is to be like a womb as God is like a womb. It is to feel as God feels and to act as God acts: in a life-giving and nourishing way. 'To be compassionate' is what is meant in the New Testament by the somewhat more abstract command 'to love.' According to Jesus, compassion is to be the central quality of a life faithful to God the compassionate one."

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