Eight times we read in the gospels that Jesus “had (or felt)compassion.” The Greek verb is splanchnizomai and comes from the word splanchna which means the inner organs – the “guts” (See Acts 1:18 where we read that Judas “burst open and all his splanchna fell out.”)
The verb is used to describe the feelings of the father of the lost son in the parable (Luke 15:20) and the feelings of the Samaritan for the half-dead man on the road (Luke 10:33).
The definition of compassion in my Websters is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it.” Tying this with the Greek word we see a deep “gut feeling” for those in need.
I have long been fascinated by the emotions that the Gospel writers tell us Jesus felt. I have often wondered how they knew His feelings. Sometimes He told them, but often He did not. But as I studied I realized that He didn’t have to tell how He felt. It showed. Every time we’re told that Jesus “had compassion,” we are told that He did something about it.
Matthew 9:36: “Seeing the crowds, He had (not felt) compassion for them because there were harassed and cast down like sheep without a shepherd” – and the following story tells that He sent His disciples to preach and heal.
Matthew 14:14: “He saw a great crowd and He had compassion for them and He healed their sicknesses.”
Matthew 15:32 and Mark 8:2: “He said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve been with me 3 days already and they don’t have anything to eat’” – so he fed them.
Matthew 20:34: “ … and Jesus had compassion” (on the blind men) – so He healed their blindness.
Mark 1:41: “ … and He had compassion” (on the leper) – so He healed him.
Mark 6:34: “ … and He saw a great crowd and He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” – so He taught them.
Luke 7:13: “ … and seeing her (a widow grieving for her dead son), the Lord had compassion on her” – so He raised her son to life.
Every time we read of Jesus’ compassion, it is not simply a deep sympathy. It shows itself by His actions. He healed, raised the dead and taught the Word, whatever was needed to alleviate suffering He had more than feelings. His feelings were translated into actions. He in a real sense entered into their sufferings.
Isn’t that what He did in the incarnation? As God in His pre-incarnate state He loved us – felt compassion for us in our need. And He became man to enter into our sufferings and alleviate them, ultimately by His death on the cross.
So do we as followers of Christ, have compassion? Do I? We’re commanded to. Paul tells us to “put on compassion (splanchna) and mercy” (Colossians 3:12).
I like to think of myself as a pretty sympathetic guy. I cry at the movies. I cry at weddings and funerals. But that’s not compassion. Compassion is when I not only enter in peoples’ feelings, but when I enter so deeply that I do something about it.
We in this century are confronted with hundreds of images of people in need. We see people not only suffering physically, but people “like sheep without a shepherd.” Are we compassionate? Only if we are doing something about it.