The compassion of Christ

Matthew 9 (NASB)

10 Then it happened that as [e]Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and [f]sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn [g]what this means: ‘I desire [h]compassion [or mercy], [i]and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This is another one of those things where the Greek reveals much more than can be put into words. It’s hard to see what compassion looks like in a person, and how it moves them to action. But the Greek helps us to understand it better.

The Greek word for compassion is used 12 times in the gospels. Here’s all of the contexts.

By the sea of Galilee — Matthew 9:36 Seeing the [ab]people, He felt compassion for them, because they were [ac]distressed and [ad]dispirited like sheep [ae]without a shepherd. 37 Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Feeding the five thousand:
Matthew 14:14 When He went [h]ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.
Mark 6:34 When Jesus went [q]ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.

Feeding the four thousand:
Matthew 15:32 And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, “I feel compassion for the [q]people, because they [r]have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”
Mark 8:2 “I feel compassion for the [a]people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.

Parable of the unforgiving servant — Matthew 18:26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the [y]debt.

Jesus restores the two blind men’s sight — Matthew 20:30 And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” 32 And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 33 They *said to Him, “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.

Jesus heals the leper — Mark 1:40 And a leper *came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

Jesus casts out a demon — Mark 9:22 It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”

Jesus raises the widow’s son — Luke 7:12 Now as He approached the gate of the city, [h]a dead man was being carried out, the [i]only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “[j]Do not weep.” 14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 The [k]dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

The Good Samaritan — Luke 10:33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

The prodigal son — Luke 15:20 So he got up and came to [i]his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and [j]embraced him and kissed him.

As we can see, the word compassion comes up multiple times in the gospel in situations where Jesus sees those around him hurting or in situation where he can help them. So going to the Greek, we see that the word in the Greek word is splagchnizomai:

G4697 — σπλαγχνίζομαι — splagchnizomai — splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee

Middle voice from G4698; to have the bowels yearn, that is, (figuratively) feel sympathy, to pity: – have (be moved with) compassion.

G4698 — σπλάγχνον — splagchnon — splangkh’-non — probably strengthened from σπλήν splēn

(the “spleen”); an intestine (plural); figuratively pity or sympathy: – bowels, inward affection, + tender mercy.

What’s interesting about the word is that it’s something that we as Christians can relate to. If you’ve ever seen someone in a difficult position and had a yearning in your stomach and are moved to help them, this is the same thing that Jesus felt when he was moved to compassion for the sick, the injured, and the hurting. It’s that feeling in your gut that maybe, just maybe, you should step into the situation and do something about it.

Based on how Jesus acted when he felt that same thing, that is your cue to step into action and help them out.

This is also what Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 (NASB) on the judgment.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not [e]take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

When you see those in need help them out. For instance, the poor person on the street begging, the person who just lost their job and may be homeless, widows having a hard time with finances, those who are depressed and downtrodden, and many others.

What good is compassion without action? Jesus felt compassion and then acted to help them out.

Don’t ignore that gut feeling that says you should help them out even if you are uncomfortable. That gut feeling is the same one that Jesus had that should tell you that you should reach out and be like Christ to them in that situation.

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6 Responses to The compassion of Christ

  1. Pingback: Righteous Actions and Character – The Virtues | From the Depths To the Wilderness

  2. Chad says:

    The timing of your post worked out quiet well with mine. I’m glad I stopped writing right before I hit post so that I could link it and show where God’s compassion fits in with the Virtues. I really think it fits in with all of them, though with the way that I had written it the link worked well with how a man’s fortitude, coupled with his prudence and the theological virtues, allows God’s compassion to shine through our actions.

    I’ll admit, I never thought the virtues would be so blastedly hard to write on – it’s simply a challenge to isolate one due to the fact that almost any action we take, decision we make, thought we think, or belief we hold dear involves aspects of every virtue.

    And compassion and love are such a deep part of the driving force behind those.

  3. Padre99 says:

    There is a hazard in here DS, compassion, like not judging, in the odd way modern society does things means “no consequences for me, hey, you are a Christian, why are you not mortgaging your house for me, or telling me what I’m doing is wrong and harmful in itself”?

  4. Good clarification.

    Specifically Jesus, Paul, and others say to help brothers and sisters and those in NEED, not those with WANTS.

    For example, 1 John 3 (NASB) 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his [g]heart [h]against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

  5. Padre99 says:

    It strikes me that this situations were one time, help, then move on lessons.

    As in the injunction in James to not talk about your faith, bless someone who is freezing, and hungry, then not meet either need if it were possible for one to do so.

    In this world there are times when all even the most devout can offer is prayer and concern, a Christian knows or should know when they can do more and not ruin themselves in so doing.

  6. With the exception of “Love God”, “love your neighbor” and “Fear God”, everything in the Bible has bounding principles. God, being smarter than every idiot with a stupid idea ever, is pretty straight forward on the bounds, as they show up in other locations.

    Which is really just a way of saying “He gave us an ENTIRE BOOK on Wisdom alone, it’s worth a read”. Somewhere in Luke (little busy to track down the exact passage), it’s pretty clear that charity given is the point, right along with “it’s better to give than to receive”, which means giving a little too much is even more credited to you. But “giving” is rarely straight money and in history was quite rare. That’s part of the rub: actually being able to “give a need” is hard. That takes truth Faith on the person receiving.

    This is why in the West, actual charity is hard to do. What most, most especially the “poor”, need is God and Wisdom. Opening them to God is hard enough, but opening them to Wisdom could take years. This, considering my inability to work for years, has been something of a maddening problem: what I have to Give, no one will Take because they have to Listen and Learn. It feels a whole lot like Jesus talking about Capernaum.

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