THE HOPE-FILLED & CHALLENGING COMPASSION OF JESUS
I have been taking a close look at what Jesus says about Himself in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew 15:32, I find one of the most hope-filled things Jesus says about Himself, as well as one of the most challenging things He says to us about Himself. While observing the physical hunger of “great crowds” who had been following Him, Jesus said to His disciples, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.”
What Jesus says here about Himself is tremendously hope-filled.
“Compassion” has to do with feeling deeply with another person. It has to do with taking on their sorrow or pain, and feeling it with them. No other religion in the world describes God as taking on people’s sorrow or pain, and feeling it along with us. But Jesus describes Himself as having compassion. He noticed the hunger of the people and felt for them. I find great hope in knowing that I am not left alone in my pain or sorrow. I find great hope in knowing that God cares enough for me to feel my hurts and needs with me.
In her book, Either Way, I Win: God’s Hope for Difficult Times, Lois Walfrid Johnson describes her visit to Oklahoma City to see the memorials to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people: “In the national memorial on the Murrah Building site, 168 empty chairs are placed in the location where each person sat when he or she died. Beyond that memorial and across the street is a statue constructed by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. The statue’s powerful image represents a tall, white-robed Christ. He stands with his back to the busy street and the place where the federal building once stood. The representation of Christ faces a brick wall in which there are 168 empty spaces—one space for each person who died. With bowed head Jesus faces that symbol of loss, covers his face with one hand, and weeps.”
I find great hope in a Savior who feels our pain with us.
N.T. Wright adds, “When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves—that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”
Gratitude and hope, those are fitting responses to meeting the God who has compassion toward us.
But what Jesus says in Matthew 15:32 about Himself also challenges me.
Why does the compassion of Jesus challenge me? Because I am called to imitate Him. If Jesus has such compassion for others, then I am to have compassion toward others as well. If Jesus felt with people in their pain and sorrow, then I am to feel with others in their hurt and need as well. If I am to live like Jesus, then I cannot turn my back on others or turn a deaf ear to their cries. The compassion of Jesus calls me away from my self-centered living. It calls me away from apathy. It calls me away from judgmentalness.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky once commented, “To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” That’s what Jesus did over and over again in His dealings with people. It’s what He calls us to seek to do over and over again in our dealings with people.
Therefore, I find great challenge in the compassion of Jesus.