“We are to be an example of Christ!” some exclaim. Sure, Christians are to be following Christ’s example – no reasonable Christian would deny such a thing. Quite often, Jesus had compassion (and currently still does). However, what does compassion look like? What exactly is compassion? According to the Gospels, compassion is having such a deep sympathy for someone that action follows to improve the situation.
A quick read over of the four Gospels reveals an attribute of Jesus – compassion. Compassion is certainly manifested through what Jesus did while physically on this Earth. Ironically, compassion is hardly mentioned in the New Testament! In the New Testament, the lemma for compassion —splagchnizomai (σπλαγχνίζομαι )— is only used 12 times in the Greek New Testament. The only use of splanchnizomai within the New Testament is in the Synoptic Gospels, where Christ’s earthly ministry was recorded. That means, out of those 12 times, there are bound to be repeats.
A majority of the time, when splanchnizomai and Jesus are together, compassion precedes the action.
In Matt 9:36, “He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (NASB)
Immediately after this, He informed His disciples about the spiritual harvest of souls to prepare the disciples on the work that is to come.
In Luke 7:13, Jesus raised a widow’s son after “He felt compassion for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'” (NASB)
Not only did Jesus have compassion, but when He told crowds His parables, the moral characters of the stories emulated Him. An example would be Matt 18:27, the parable of the unforgiving servant. The lord of the slave in this parable “felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” (NASB) Another well-known parable on compassion would be the Parable of the Good Samaritan. When the man was laying on the side of the road, passed by, this Samaritan “felt compassion.” This led the Samaritan to clean the man, bandage him, and to give him lodging until he was better. One final example would be the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the son was returning back to his father, the father saw him, he had compassion for him, and ran to him to embrace him.
Compassion to Jesus was not only work, it was something internal, it was feeling, emotion. An example of this would be when Jesus fed the 4,000. He says, “I feel compassion for the people.” (Mark 8:2, NASB, emphasis mine) Sure, works followed His compassion, but that does not change the fact that He feels compassion. Plus, His compassion is always present with Him. As Jesus was getting ready to enter Jerusalem before His crucifixion, there were two blind men waiting outside. When they told Jesus that they want their eyes to be opened, he was “moved with compassion.” (Matt 20:34, NASB, emphasis mine)
There is just one more instance that should be covered. In Mark 9:14-29, Mark records the account of a miraculous resurrection.
Jesus and His disciples are returning back from the mountain and they come upon the scene of a large crowd and scribes arguing over a demon possessed boy. After describing the situation with the boy, the father pleads with the Lord to take pity and help. After this plea, the Lord casts out the demon out of the boy and he is healed! In this case, instead of the Lord doing the initiating, the father did by making his plea to take pity on the boy. There is no apparent reason as to why the Lord was not first moved with compassion and having the man ask for pity. As stated before, Christ is filled with compassion always —He is compassion— but maybe He had the man ask so that he could be moved to a humble state of submission and to realize that He is the Great Physician.
It is important to note that this is the only instance that someone pleaded for Jesus’ compassion. It is not like Christ was slow to act, it happened according to His will. This is a powerful testimony of Jesus though because that means in all those other instances, Jesus was the initiator, He felt compassion then did the work. This goes to show that He will not fail to show compassion when people need it most.
Now that compassion has been looked at in the Gospels, what all does this mean for the Christian? For starters, action always follows compassion. This is not to say that we “by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God.” (WCF 16.5) However, works coming from compassion is a sure sign of faith. (WCF 16.2) This is a way Christians can fulfill one of the greatest commandments, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, NASB). Secondly, Christians should not forget to teach others about compassion. As important as it is to know compassion and show compassion, it is important to teach others about compassion so that they may understand compassion more, so that they can exhibit Christ. Thirdly, Christians should always be in the state of compassion. Having a bad day does not negate the continual compassion that should be showing. Christ did not stop showing compassion when He was handed over to the authorities to be abused and to die on the cross for sin, He even showed compassion then. Lastly, Christians should always remember to cry out to God when in need of compassion. God answers all cries, all groans, all prayers. They should be confident in the fact that God will show compassion when it is needed. In the end, compassion is so much more than a few simple actions to do, it is a constant state of being.