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The Compassion of Jesus

Jesus was known and remembered as a man who was moved with compassion.

Here are two examples.

Matthew 9:36 (NRSV): "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Matthew 14:14 (NRSV): "When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

As Jesus proclaimed and enacted the Kingdom of God, the Gospels tell us that Jesus was led and directed by the Holy Spirit, but also by his inner emotions.

In modern terms, we may say that he was led by his heart; in the world of Jesus, we would say that he was 'led by his gut.' That's quite literally where the word standing behind 'moved with compassion' comes from.

We do not need to see the work and actions of the Holy Spirit in conflict with the emotions and heart of Jesus. Rather, we may say that Jesus was so deeply immersed and intertwined in the life of the Spirit that his emotions and physical actions were directed and aligned with the Spirit of God and the life and reign of the Father.

Let’s briefly look at one of these texts which mention compassion.

Matthew 20:29–34 (NRSV)// Mk 10:46–52; Lk 18:35–43

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

As Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem, he is followed by crowds. Along the roadside, two destitute, socially and economically disadvantaged men sit, forbidden to worship in the temple. They are undoubtedly perceived by others as cursed for their sins. Yet, despite their physical blindness, they see what the religious elite do not – they seek mercy from the Messiah, the Son of David. Despite the crowd's attempts to silence them, their desperation drives them to shout even louder. Unconventional and unfazed by societal norms, they persist.

Jesus stops.

He willingly allows himself to be interrupted by these vulnerable adults with complex needs. His schedule is not a priority; he recognizes that the kingdom is found not in meticulous planning but in responding to suffering as it arises.

Jesus not only stops, but he listens to their voice.

He doesn't impose his own agenda on these suffering souls; instead, he asks them to clarify their needs, enabling them to actively participate in their own healing.

Then, guided by his compassion, Jesus takes action. He is deeply moved. To offer a theological perspective on this moment, we may say that the Eternal Son of God, the one who was present in the beginning and created all things, now embodied and incarnated as the God-man Jesus, is moved by love, compassion, and kindness.

He heals them, and they choose to follow him.

Compassion in action leads to discipleship, and this physical transformation, where the blind gain sight, is interconnected with a transformation in the kingdom. Those who were once outcasts are now included, and the rejected become active participants.

The church, called by Jesus and sent by Jesus, should resemble and embody the love of Jesus in its response to the most vulnerable in society—a bias towards the poor. It should be distinguished by kindness, love, and compassion—a love that is tangible and responsive, a love that is willing to break from schedules to manifest the compassionate reign and rule of the Father.



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