One of the greatest qualities in the life of Jesus was his willingness to enter into the human situation and to be deeply moved by tender compassion that compelled him to help and to heal. Jesus was never detached from, nor indifferent to human sorrow and suffering. People were never a nuisance to Jesus but an opportunity to serve.
According to Webster, compassion is "to suffer with another; hence, sympathy; sorrow for the distressed or unfortunate with the desire to help" (Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged, Second Edition). Webster then gives a poignant statement from South, "There never was a heart truly great and generous, that was not also tender and compassionate."
William Barclay wrote, "If there was one thing the ancient world needed it was compassion, pity and mercy." There was no concern for the sick and feeble, no provision for the aged and no feeling for the mentally and emotion-ally disturbed. Christ, however, in his appearance brought love, affection and care to a world of apathy and complacency.
Jesus and Compassion
Compassion was an outstanding feature in the life of Jesus. He is spoken of several times as being moved with compassion. Actually, he is our perfect example of compassion. Let us notice:
1. He lived it. On various occasions he alleviated the suffering and pain of others. At Jericho he had compassion on two blind men sitting by the wayside, and touched their eyes, and immediately their eyes received sight (Matt. 20:30-34). Seeing a great multitude near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was moved with compassion and healed their sick (Matt. 14:14).
When Jesus came nigh to the gate of the city Nain, He beheld the coffin which contained the body of the only son of a widow. When the Lord saw her he had compassion on her sorrow and said, "Weep not. And he came and touched her bier. . . . And he said, young man, I say unto thee, Arise" (Lk. 7:11-14). Seeing the hunger of the multitude Jesus said to his disciple, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and they have nothing to eat, and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in their way" (Matt. 15:32).
The loneliness of being lepers moved Jesus to touch them and heal them (Mk. 1:41). On going through the cities and preaching and teaching in the synagogues, Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:35-36). Is he any less compassionate today when he observes our bewilderment in so-called Christendom?
2. He taught it. All of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). In response to a lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus answered by relating the story of a certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves. Religious devotees, a Jewish priest and Levite, passed by with indifference, but an unknown Samaritan came by, and when he saw him he had compassion on him. At his own expense and effort, the Samaritan provided for his needs. Jesus then asked the lawyer, "Which now of these three thinketh thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?" And the lawyer said, "He that showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said unto him, "Go and do likewise." Friend, let us be good neighbors! Also, compare the parables of lost things (Lk. 15).
3. He expects it. Through revelation (Gal. 1:12; Eph. 3:3) Jesus said to the apostles, "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted (compassionate, NIV), forgiving one an-other. . ." (Eph. 4:32). Again, "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; he sympathetic, love as brothers, be compasssionate and humble" (1 Pet. 3:8). John says if we have this world's goods, and shut up our bowels of compassion how dwelleth the love of God in us" (1 Jn. 3:17). Let us heed the teaching of Jesus.
Jesus Versus Stoicism
Characteristic of the world in which Jesus lived was a philosophy which was espoused by a great number of people not affected by passion, able to suppress feelings, manifesting or maintaining austere indifference to joy, grief, pleasure or pain. In this dearth of inhumanity of man toward man, Jesus came, bringing a fountain flowing with pity and compassion.
In fact, the Stoics were incapable of feeling. They reasoned that if a man could sorrow or joy it meant that someone else could affect him, alter his feelings, making him happy or sad. They erroneously surmised that if God could feel sorrow or joy at anything that happens to man, it would mean that man can affect God, and, therefore, man has power over God.But since it is impossible, they thought, for man to influence God, therefore he must be essentially without feeling. Hence, a divine Being would have no compassion.
Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, wrote of how we should teach and train ourselves not to care when we lose some-thing. He said: "This should be our study from morning to night, beginning from the least and frailest things, from an earthen vessel, from a glass. Afterwards, proceed to a suit of clothes, a dog, a horse, an estate; from thence to yourselves, body, parts of the body, children, wife, brothers. Lose anything, see your nearest and dearest die, and say: `It doesn't matter; I don't care.'
Most of us often think that God is love and that the Christian's life is love, but we would do well to remember that without Jesus' entrance into the world, the feeling of compassion would have not been exemplified for us to fully learn. "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger and of great mercy" (Psa. 145:8). It is comforting to know that Jesus is touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). We sing the beautiful hymn:
O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the longs nights dreary,
I know my Saviour cares.
Jesus and the Christian
Can we as followers of Jesus, be any less compassionate than he? No! We must show compassion toward the spiritual and physical needs of people. All of us should be ready to respond to human anguish and misery, not allowing our hearts to be hardened by selfish interests and materialistic goals.
Some practical suggestions to show compassion include: (1) Visit the sick and shut-ins. (2) Send cards to those who are ill and bereaved. (3) Notice the needs of those around about us, such as the distressed, the discouraged, the destitute, etc. (4) Encourage fellow-Christians, remember the difficulty and struggle in living the Christian life. (5) Remember when you were lost in sin, and what it means for someone to care and teach you the truth. Other points could be mentioned.
Let us be challenged to be like Christ! Let us be compassionate! One of the essential tasks of New Testament Christianity is to reappraise the meaning and application of compassion for today.
From the November 7, 1985 publication of Truth Magazine