Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe
yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear
with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against
someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on
love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The disciple Matthew wrote, “When [Jesus] saw
the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
The scene in Matthew 9 repeated
itself throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. Crowds flocked to Jesus because they
could sense his concern for them. They were changed by his words and healed by
his power, but above all they were touched by his compassion.
As seen in the Bible, Jesus’
compassion manifested itself in three stages, which have tremendous relevance
for those who seek to follow him.
“As he went along, he saw a man
blind from birth” (John 9:1). The root of Jesus’ compassion is found in this
seemingly ordinary sentence from the Gospel of John. Many in Jesus’ day (as in
ours) were oblivious to the suffering of others. The disabled frequently
gathered near the temple to beg money from kindhearted worshipers. They were
often ignored because some believed their affliction was God’s punishment for
some sin they—or their parents—had committed.
Jesus refused to ignore the blind
man. He didn’t stare straight past or increase his pace to avoid an awkward
encounter. He looked directly at the man and took note of his condition. He
made a connection.
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35). The
shortest verse in the Bible is loaded with implications for Jesus’ followers.
In this instance, Jesus had come to visit his friends Mary and Martha
after receiving news that their brother, Lazarus, had died. Jesus already knew
he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead in order to demonstrate his power.
He—and he alone—knew that in a matter of minutes, Lazarus would be alive again.
when Jesus saw the mourners who had gathered— anguished and devastated by the
loss of their loved one—he wept with them. He put himself in their place, felt
the pain they were experiencing, and reacted with empathy toward them. He
didn’t just observe their grief; he joined them in it.
Jesus gave sight to the blind man
in John 9. He brought Lazarus back to life. Elsewhere in the Gospels, he cured
people’s disabilities, healed all manner of sickness, and freed others from
demon possession. Yet not all his interventions were supernatural. In John 8,
he protected a woman from a crowd of men who threatened to stone her to death
for adultery. In Luke 19, he socialized with a reviled tax collector and his
socially unacceptable friends.
In each situation, Jesus acted on
someone else’s behalf. That’s his legacy of compassion. He stepped into
people’s lives, acquainted himself with their circumstances, and took steps to
meet their needs.
This blog post has been adapted from the special-edition magazine Walking with Jesus, which is available wherever magazines are sold.