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.