Jesus continued to proclaim the good news as he made his way through the towns and villages of Galilee. Wherever he went there were people who needed his healing touch. Matthew records that those who crowed around him were “confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (9:35) So, how did their distress affect Jesus emotionally and what did he do about it? We know that he told them that God’s kingdom was being established on earth and that they should repent (Matt. 3:2; 4:17) but what was his visceral reaction to them in their need? Matthew writes that Jesus’ heart was “filled with compassion” (9:36).
The Greek word for compassion refers to one’s visceral area. To be “filled with compassion” means to feel in one’s own body what might be called an emotional equivalent to what another person is experiencing. It is deep bonding with another. Compassion carries its own price: it costs to care. One might ask, Of what importance is it that we experience such a reaction when we find ourselves with others in need? The answer is simple; apart from compassion we are far less apt to do something about it. God has made us as we are and he gave us the capacity to care about the distress of a fellow human being. We are God’s creatures and intended to love and be of help to one another. Had sin not entered the world it would have been our natural reaction to the pain or anguish of another. As the sinless Son of God, Jesus shows us what life beyond the pervasive influence of sin is like. When we see another in distress we are moved with compassion. It’s what God intended for human relationships but has been thrown off track by the dominance of sin in our world.
Compassion is a strong and compelling word. We know it in a limited sense but I expect that in the relationships of eternity, while there will be no suffering or tears, should there be we would be immediately moved with compassion. Among certain groups a show of compassion is considered a sign of weakness. Certainly it is not masculine. To the contrary, compassion is so strong that there is nothing that can ever keep it from expressing itself openly without regard for public reaction. The Dalai Lama is right on target when he says that “love and compassion are not luxuries, but necessities, and without them humanity cannot survive.”